Abstract Q – Selected Frequencies For Unrepressed Neural Events
Label: Staalplaat Open Circuit Format: CD-R
Following on from his time in Abstract Quadrant and Neural Coital, Valerio Zucca Paul pursues the Ambient electronic strand in this collection of electronic doodles. The textures range from bleeps and chimes into more vertiginous compositions of hypnotivc loops and electronic ghost trails; with titles like “Dream Machine” and “Landscape Out Of Focus”, the intent is defintiely psychotropic and the results slow moving, breath-speed atmospherics.
The leanings of each track tends towards progressive accretion of sounds – chirping clinks in “Dream Machine”, circling buzzes on “Without Gravity”, the radio static and stuttering loops of “Nerves” – and then something happens. “Without Gravity” gets a clunky-funky beat introduced to underpin the spiralling synths and a sprightly keyboard melody to boot for example, or the spluttering analogue loop of “Spinal Tremor” dissolves into stentorian thuds and a miasma of aquatic squirls thoughout its somewhat extended duration which closes the CD. There are moments of Ambient Electronica aplenty here, and Paul has certainly learnt a thing or two from Autechre and applied it to the mix, though there’s still a quite linear feel still to a lot of the pieces on Selected Freqencies… by comparision.
All in all, this album meanders its way from echoed sound snippet to ominous 303 snarl and reverberating bass kick and all points lysergic from there. It’s even occasionally post-Industrial as a result, with the harsher rhythms associated with that form more prominent than say the Techno influence. Download is possibly a good starting point for comparision, should one be required, at least as far as “Brain Gate” is concerned, though “Interior Interference” has a suitably seashore sussurus to complement its Ambient breakbeat trundlings. By no means merely generic, there’s much to Selected Freqencies… to please the discerning Ambient enthusiast.
Stains and Scribbles is the latest work from Italian electronic musician Valerio Zucca Paul. A good collection of tracks that range from Electro to Drum and Bass to Dubby ambience and back again. The sound is as intricate and dirty as a slower paced Current Value with some wonderful analogue tweaks in between the collapsing rhythms and digital distortion.
It would be inappropriate to talk about the aims of Abstract Q, the sounds are sonic scribbles drawn without reason or intention. So the CD is stains and scribbles quite literally – electronic Rorschach inkblots. “Traces that are surely free, instinctive, inner, and irrational. Lines that mirror and uncontrolled part of our brain: Stains And Scribbles.
Rob Acid– Andere Schatten
Label: Force Inc. Format: 12″
What a perfect name to describe the music which Mr. Acid produces; straightforward, no-nonsense, punishingly trancey Techno which pulses, rips and throbs into shattering intensities of excoriating noise, just as it should, right from the first beats and analogue squelches of “Die Nacht aus Blei.” Four-square and thumping, this track could be one of thousands in mix, but would fit perfectly for any moment of dancefloor excercise workouts the world over. Why compromise when it works so well?
“Gesänge der Frühe” and “Sequenzen des Windes” are no more B-sides than they are that much different from the flipside – the former tune emphasises the phasing puslewidth of Acid-style instrumentation, rising up to peaks and dripping down into troughs over and around the one-two of the handclap and synth-wobble bassline. “Sequenzen” makes everything so much more compast, filtering and compressing the beats closer and closer together for an urgent number which is bound to raise a good ecstatic sweat on the floor – Hardcore Trance just isn’t going to go away, and why should it when it fulfills such an admirably hectic function like these tracks do?
Barry Adamson – As Above, So Below
Label: Mute Format: CD,LP
A strong exploration of Barry Adamson as singer- songwriter, following the years of faux-soundtrack work, As Above, So Below allows him space to croon, swing and growl his way through ten varied songs which explore various deviances, obsessions and existential crises though the medium of eclectic, post-Modern loungeisms. Smoothly sequenced stylings get a look in too, in the epic “Déjà Voodoo”, while the strings and swoons of the single cut “Can’t Get Loose” are sharply satirical, undercutting the apparent saccharine before scathing feedback slips into the close. Likewise “What It Means” prowls like a slick swing monster, while the deeply noir “Jazz Devil” scatters brushed drums with smokey vocals under the highly entertaining demonic Big Band smooch which, with its Hammonds and brass section, burns through an everyday tale of soul-selling and the back streets of a fantasticly-drawn darkling London.
There is a moment of funky beat rage in “Still I Rise” which allows Adamson a good old rant and a rock-out to boot, slyly sampling Anthrax/Chuck D’s “Bring The Noise” along the way. Given the recent resurgence of Suicide, it’s no surpise that their “Girl” is covered here in depth-charge bass and keyboard mode, nor that “Frankie Teardrop’s” drums crop up as samples in the scorchingly oppressive closing track “Jesus Wept,” which pounds its way across a deluge of muffled voices, backmasking and plundered noise, before the soaring redemption of the heavenly closure. There’s soundscape and soundtracking aplenty on “The Monkey Speaks His Mind,” which pretty much continues the theme in incendiary style, as does the Funk & Brass of “Goddess Of Love”. As whirling, sleazy Nineties journeys though cinematic soundscapes go, As Above, So Below is in a scaldingly epic league of its own.
-Antron S. Meister-
Barry Adamson – Can’t Get Loose
Label: Mute Format: CDS, 12″
First single from As Above, So Below, “Can’t Get Loose” is a surreptitiously nasty song, with the bitter lyric “Havin’ fun in heaven while you’re crucified” crooned in deceptively jaunty style over a rolling, jolly little tune. “Trouble Asunder (Oedipus Returns)” is like a sardonic Ken Nordine vignette, while “Hear The Angels” is a surprisingly Housey breakbeat jaunt though cover version territory, though with more scraping noise than most ravers would appreciate. Once again, Adamson shows his eclectic cut & skills can emulate Babel with the best of them, a towering, infernal combination which finds expression in the murky Electronica of “Namaste MPC (End Title)”.
-Antron S. Meister-
Well, Barry, it’s been kind of a weird journey, hasn’t it? From Bad Seed to composer of soundtracks to fictional movies, to composer of soundtracks to David Lynch movies, to- this is where “What It Means” comes in. Again, Adamson plays the John Barry character, where we all play the viewer. Or listener. (Depending on your take on post-modernism.) But, for what it’s worth, this is mean, moody, and, (let’s face it, this is what it comes down to) if you were IN an movie (yeah, you expected me to say “if you were making a movie”, didn’t you, well HAH!) then this would be a bloody good soundtrack. (As long as it was a particularly moody, spooky, and stylish movie).
Add N To (X) – Take Me To Your Leader
Label: Mute Format: CDS/12″
Opening with a slow drum machine stomp and bringing forth the whinnying swoops of analogue synths over just about three minutes of avant-Pop chug, “Take Me To Your Leader” sounds like nothing so much as The Residents doing over Gary Glitter, distended vocals and music alike. Which, come to think of it, is a real surprise that the anonymous monoculoids haven’t done already, but now Add N To (X) have hit that particular nerve, there’s really no need, as this is about as good as that particular idea is going to get – ironic and fun at the same time. The CD single includes a Surrealist MPEG video for the track, which features the band struggling across a Jodorowski-style southern Spanish landscape with a big white trunk which might as easily be a coffin as a synthesizer travel case.
“The Trees Are Dreamless Leafless Genius”, while comparisions are being made (which seems to be appropriate for such magpies as these), combines a creakily percussive Gun Club-style programmed R&B stomp with Jean-Jacques Perrey into a buzzing Electro rainforest bleep. As for “The Monkey Skirt Marters”, it’s pretty much impure Add N To (X), with trebly electronic discordances writhing around a funky rhythm and sinister surges of sinewave and echoing scuzz and a distant cut-up guest vocal from one (presumably the)Kurt Shwitters (sic).
Add N To (X) – Add Insult To Injury –
Label: Mute Format: CD,2LP
A double vinyl album is a concept every band worth taking notice of has to contend with, or at least abuse, once in their career. Led Zeppelin did it, Can did it. For God`s sake, Yes built a whole career our of triple live albums. Even if Metallica havn’t got around to a double album in practice, they are there in spirit.
So naturally I`m pleased to see two large black slabs of vinyl from Add N To (X), and they are doing what they do very well. Cute irreverent ditties with enough analogue technology to make a synth player drool with envy meet burbling distortion head on. There’s even the football terrace post-pub stomper “Monster Bobby” thrown in for good measure. The sleeve photos, apart from attesting to how deeply attractive the band members are, completes the picture. Their studio, much like the album, is a sprawl of spaghetti cabling aand chunky big black synthesizers.
Add N To (X) are the kind of band that make me think of the heady days of Space Invaders.
Add N To (X)– Avant Hard
Label: Mute Format: CD
Bringing more of the Moog album craziness to the sound than on their debut album , Add N To (X) seem intent on creating a virtual world of mock-Victorian electronica – preferably steam-driven. Covered up in a Jerry Cornelius-like kitschadelic Sixties-pastiching collage sleeve (time and historicism being somewhat irrelevant considerations here), Avant Hard focusses their vintage electronic equipment into a tightly-coiled stream of post-Modern spluttering self-consciouness.
This isn’t to say it’s bad; more that the very familiarity of the instruemntation is in denger of breeding contempt. that it doesn’t is a testament to the group’s inventiveness as well as the sheer fervour with which they combine oscillator with funky drumming, echoed arepggiated down-turns with Theremin (in another time-honoured tradition) and an appreciation of the finer possibilites of full-on, headmelting space-rock extravaganzas like “Robot New York” or the pitch-bending, acid-spitting, incongrously Easy-vocalled Techno-blast “Fyuz”. Rejigging an old Favourite into “Revenge Of The Black Regent” makes for a particularly soaring slice of sinuous Mellotron-style grandeur, and as for tracks like “Steve’s Going To Teach Himself Who’s Boss”, they’re at least as musically funny as they’re archly titled, with swiling screches slammed up full-tilt against some of the most ominously deranged lyrics since Arthur Brown (or maybe Viv Stanshell) and a clod-hopping Electronic backbeat.
From start to finish the Avant Hard rollercoaster makes it’s own internally-consistent universe, where Rock and Roll didn’t bother with tedious, fiddly strings, and where the cocktail lounges serve bitter battery-acid in a long glass, spike with the finest benzedrine the mad scientists can provide. Cartoonish, insouciant on the finer points of melody and electronic sequencing, Add N To (X) like their retro rough and their influences battered.
Add N To (X) – Plug Me In
Label: Mute Format: 12″,7″,CDS
Blessed with just about the best chorus for a song about Electro-loving devices since “Daisy Daisy” was covered by Max Mathews‘s mainframe, “Plug Me In” starts off evocatively with the speech-cynth lyrics “I’ve got two machines/Do do doo do dooo/I just plug them in/do do dooo do do/They are my best friends/Do do do doo do” and goes on into warm analogue Avant-Synth-Pop directions from there. Naturally, by the time the main chorus has mutated into “Fuck me in”, it’s all gone ever so gorgeously danceable and a little bit saucy.
Even more so is the “Murray’s Space Shoes” mix in wave yer hands round yer head full on pumping Disco style, complete with oscillator-sequence breakdown and melody breaks. All it needs is some tumbling beats rising to a creschendo, and it’s a killer cheesy-grin dancefloor smash. For robots and humans with a technology fetish, natch. Lastly, “Hey Double Double” is a bit of a smoother groover underneath it all, while splaying synth noise around some lubering drum machine bangs and some freestyle speech synth and/or vocodering over a two-finger melody. Not nearly as infectious as the title track, but acceptable enough in its retro-Techno oddness.
Add N To (X) – The Poker Roll
Label: Mute Format: 2xCDS,12″
One of the bouncier numbers from Add Insult To Injury, “The Poker Roll” rattles along in swoops and pitch-bends of the group’s fearsome banks of electronics old and new over a chunky beat in their own curious blend of Electronic Rock, circa 1973 (when it did sometimes get called Techno Rock) and the ecstatic sound of synths on the larey rampage. The “Bugger All” remix (they seem to have made the main title sample into a computer-enhanced/generated voice saying the very same) winds up on the second CD single and 12″, and does a very Electro beat thang to the tune.
The highlight and reason for buying either or both editions of this single at all is Add N to (X)’s collaboration with Jon Spencer on “White Scrapie” and “Wax Gravy”, the former of which is a down and dirty old Blues number which once again recalls the Butthole Surfer‘s take on the swampier sides of Rock’n’Roll with added background chatter and some evil windswept synthery-pokery in the murky, reeking sound. “Wax Gravy” drops down the song elements in favour of the dirt, spoken or aural, with much giggly discussion of intimate plastic surgery to the same slow electric Blues and spluttery analogue electronics.
As for the extra on the computer-readable part of the CDs, it’s that very controversial video in MPEG format for “Plug Me In“, conveniently stickered on the sleeve just so the buyer gets the idea that it’s explicit – which it is, quite, in the amusing saucy/pervy Add N To (X) style.
The Advent – War Head EP
Label: Tortured Format: 12″
When I first got The War Head EP I wasn`t too sure – I found this record took a little time to grow on me. Since then “Mega-Tom Bomb” has become a firm favourite. The Advent are up to their usual standard. It just doesn`t stop, the rhythm is good and incessant, and the weird churning noises behind it sound like a synthesizer thas been forcibly made to drink Special Brew. If the Advent were a freight train you`d be a fool to stand in front of them, five miles and 20,000 tons of locomotive would grind you into the rails. And I`m always happy to see something from the lads; its a reminder that not all of UK Techno is piss-poor.
The real problem with UK Techno is that most of it is Harcdore/Gabba or rainbow Handbag Goa-way Trance. OK, I`m sure its very good if you`re speedin’ off yr trolley – but the point is ANYTHING with an up-tempo rhythm would be just as good. Including The Advent. As far as I can see it, there’s a vicious circle at work here: the clubs don`t experiment because they know the audience get off on what they play … and the clubs don’t experiment, and Trance goes even further up its own arse. Ho hum. I suppose I shouldn`t get a bee in my bonnet about it. The Advent make great techno, though, and this record’s pretty damm good.
A.D.O.R. – One For The Trouble /Let It All Hang Out
Label: Uppercut Format: 12″,CDS
These guys certainly do let it all hang out; slow-walking bass, Funky HipHop beats, slim scratching and mic action of some lyrical dexterity (though they’re better at the beat-cutting). Emphatically catchy, with smart beats for transient fun on the original mix, and some serious grooving in the sub-James Brown style from Rae & Christian‘s reworking in a harder style, while their instrumental mix and A.D.O.R.‘s own do exactly what they say on the sleeve, with some nice sped-up vocal snippets on the former.
“One For The Trouble” is a scratchier, hissier affair, with a check for the Renegade Master and his ill behaviour – and not a Speed Garage bass slide to be heard. Illbient is probably not quite the right term either, though there’s dark, wary uncertainty expressed through some finely interacting rapping in a gloomy stream of consciousness. Sam Sever takes his version down slower and even edgier, with dubbed echoes on the vocals and a strange, persistent whine mixed in to unsettle and disrupt.
African Head Charge Vs. Professor Stretch– Drums of Defiance
Label: On-U Sound Format: CD,LP
African Head Charge were created initially as a virtual band, brought together around the Nyabinghi rhythms of Bonjo Noah House of Dread and samples from such choice sources as Music inthe World Of Islam in the mixing desk of Adrian Sherwood (partly as a response to Eno and Byrne “Vision of a psychedelic Africa” as proposed by My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts) – so it’s only inevitable that there should be a remix album in the Nineties.
Still, here it’s just one remixer, Professor Stretch of The Underwolves, and this fact certainly engenders a unity of construction which is inevitably absent from multi-artist efforts of interpretation and remodelling. Hence the Versus in the name, and what emerges is essentially a collaboration which draws heavily on its source material but isn’t afraid to head of in entirely new directions either. From the opening “Brother Of Reality” this is the case, as decidedly non-AHC vocals and soaring keyboards work to create a track segued into the compelling percussive undertow, Skip McDonald’s distinctive guitar picking and the characteristic surging synths of the original material – and despite initial misgivings, this approach works well in creating something worthwhile out of already phenomenal material.
What the good Professor manages is the difficult trick of taking an approach which allows for subtlety where required – but not to the point where the listener is left wondering “What remix?” Instead, a build up of familiar elements is allowed to grow, before the full-on Drum & Bass touches are applied, as found in “You Learn,” “Run Come Chant” and “The Fullness” – even if there’s a little too much emphasis on the pipes. Keeping to the middle ground between Dub and D&B remixes (with occasional forays into Ambient stylings in the title track or “Hot Pursuit”, or the Technoid groove of “Pacesetter”), Stretch has been remarkably faithful to the spirit of the original without compromising on radical restructuring. For this he is to be thanked, as no-one likes the aural butchery a bad remix can work on a classic sound – and Drums Of Defiance, while by no means perfect, generally lives up adequately to the the exacting standards of the original material.
Brian Agro – Poems And Preludes
Label: Percaso Format: CD
Some music needs time to make an impression on you and some is more immediate. This is a mixture of both. There are twenty short solo piano pieces with titles like, ‘Etude 2A’, ‘Prelude 9’and ‘Poem no 1’, titles which may suggest a certain kind of music; calm and reflective, requiring careful attention. They are titles which do not distract from the music.
Agro‘s compositions are played/interpreted by Tomas Bachli and convey a range of moods, such as the restraint of the opening ‘Two Short Pieces’ with their gently rippling motifs and the sustained chords of ‘Poem no 3’. They aren’t often particularly memorable in a melodic sense but sometimes a chord progression will remain with you, as in ‘Poem no 7’ which recalls a brief fragment ; something remembered from a longer work, an overture abstracted from a piece you can no longer recall. The same maybe said of ‘Prelude 12’ where the melody alludes to another earlier classical style. These are miniatures, carefully condensed constructions, with minimum embellishment. Nothing showy or ostentatious here.
At times they recall Erik Satie‘s work in that you are given a tantalisingly short statement which is then left without further development. It is enough in itself. On other pieces the keyboard is used to produce more sustained barrages of ideas but they are by no means overwhelming. There is an emphasis on succinctness. The player is given little room to improvise and even on a piece like, ‘Improvisation on Resolution No 4’, he still remains within a compact structure taking no extended flights beyond it. Some tracks make an impression by the force of their brevity just as others appear as spectral visitations and are gone again, leaving the listener with a ghost of an idea to return to. Their apparent simplicity may make them seem unremarkable but it is one of the factors which also makes them attractive. I was happily surprised by this well-presented collection and will look forward to more from Agro.
Air Liquide – Up In Smoke ’98
Label: Harvest/EMI Format: CDS,12″
A pretty damn fine reworking of War’s over-soundtracked “Low Rider” classic by the acceptable face of major-label Electronica. Mixed in three various flavours to savour depending on mood, or just breeze on through all three, with a handy course in German linguaphonics in the interval. Now when will this version crop up in the background of a retro-chic movie score?
Air Traffic Controllers – Assistant To The Assistant
Label: Parallelism Format: CD
A beacon wends its way – much wending – from the fog that is itself, into a clearer signal. Signposts of familiarity – guitar skree and feeding back – arise sporadically, then more regularly. Somnolent staggerings rise up against the chittering of whatsit in the background. It’s as if the piece levitates from the swamp and mire – compact with the Blues unannounced? Reverberations gong the call – have the number of psyche-activating frequencies been charted yet? And then an organic organ distinguishes itself from the fray, which seems to calm – or is this just before a storm? It’s as if there are distinct chapters being called forth in a story – but what determines the demarcations? How much improv is in Improv?
The smoke of another experiment curls up and across the tapping and drums. It wavers in loops and passes through and around the drums and continued tapping. Static rhythms into slowfall silence, a lingering scent…whereupon gentle tendrils of guitar take root, and drums tentatively step into the background. Somewhere, a kiss is envisioned. The tapping falls in drops on the microphone, and a warbling tone softly guesses a morning after; of rain and deep heartbeats in drum, of something upcoming. Light strikes an opening eye and there is chaos, or speed – whichever word escapes the lips quickest. The melee turns into a relay, as a rhythm and other patterns arise and arrive. Can even a nihilist “get religion”?
Lars Åkerlund – Rivers Of Mercury/Via Styx
Label: Firework Edition Format: CD
The rumble and quake of one tone leads to a ringing bell and voices out of a sea of confusion. Many different kind of bells speak to each other in misunderstood introspection. Do tones have secret lives of their own? A more measured cadence bridges backward voice to backwards voice – it’s easy to see where this could be rampantly applied in modern dance. Tones vault, frightened flocks of birds in the seas of unease and the rumble and shine reverberates (which incidentally is the longest word one can type using solely the left hand). Mass acceleration hits like a bell that was struck and beats wash effulgently across the speakers and what’s being called out by the ringing tone? The end?
Drone emerges against the wind and the heavy engine incarnates, pulsing with its own secret heart. Telegraph signals wave in its path and it grows, planet on the prowl. The living thing – the recording that can be turned on, just below the level of hearing, increasing a certain amount of emotion or tension – moves onward, second by inexorable second. How long can the manta ray live? No one knows, not even the sudden voice that appears, gesticulating urgently. A gentle test tone inculcates. A sweeping wave of the sound from hands drinks in the remaining waters from Styx, possibly moving on to Lethe…
Akron/Family – Meek Warrior
Label: Young God Format: CD
I believe I have mentioned before how Akron/Family are incredibly difficult to describe. C’mon, gimme a break here. This is an indescribable album. But I shall try. Here’s how the first track works. We go straight into a drum/guitar mantra that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on the last three Tool albums. Then we’re in a basement full of clown-headed mannequins, all with a grudge. then we hit the Gospel-Manson Family revival meeting. Now we’re in 70s road-trip rock’n’roll, then in the rear-view mirror of that station wagon appears Talking Heads. Baffled by the sudden Eno-esque funk, the driver runs straight into a big bunch of petrol-carrying lorries. He carries on, but with more flames than before (we’re in action movie territory), he runs the barricade… and then suddenly hits A WALL OF SAX!!!!!!!!!
We’re still only seven minutes and some change into the album. The ghost of Sun Ra is grabbing his remaining possessions and pegging it for the hills, though I imagine if he were to leave them, then there’d be far worse people to nick them than Akron/Family. For them I shall make an exception to my hatred of bands with punctuation in their names. For them I’ll maybe consider that maybe beards are cool. For them I’ll… well, I don’t know what I’ll do for them, really, because they’re like proper alien invaders or something. I DON’T KNOW WHAT THEY WANT. They aren’t here to steal our water. They aren’t here to make our photogenic movie stars jump through windows.
I DON’T KNOW WHAT THEY WANT. But they must be from space, surely? (Trying to organise some kind of defence against this menace from space, the local mad scientist says “imagine how fucked we were when the last Flaming Lips album came out- we had no real defence for those West Coast harmonies, that total spaciness… they hit us with that and we were ready – fuck, we were ready, but this time – there’s bells, there’s jazz, there’s gospel, there’s JUST I DON’T KNOW HOW TO DESCRIBE IT THE BASE STATION HAS BEEN OVERRUN THE BASE STATION HAS BEEN OVERRxxzxzxzzxxzxzxzzxzxzxzzxzx”)
I‘m not sure how to follow that.
-Deueteronemu 90210, who can barely lift his fingers to type-
Alien Sex Fiend – Fiend At The Controls Vol. 1 & 2
Label: Cherry Red Format: 2CD
Okay! Hands up everyone. Gimme your Alien Sex Fiend Moment (if you don’t have one, go out and buy this album and wait until something funny happens. May spoil the whole point of the review, but quite frankly, who gives one?). Mine? Here we go. Off me tits, so to speak, watching Sex Fiend at The University of London Union, oooh, a fuck of a long time ago, and some guy, real scary-lookin’, comes up to me having spent several minutes making the approach (so there’s me, off my tits as I may have mentioned, going “Who the fuck’s this guy stalking towards me?”) And I shit you not, visions of mad knifemen, people with guns and even little midgets from the end of Don’t Look Now danced before my, I must add, off-me-tits eyes) and says, cagey like: “Is it just me, or was there a giant rat onstage just now?”
Had he not been so ugly (and dare I say it, so fucking weird) I would have hugged him there and then and – oh, hold on a minute, I’ve got someone on the other line… Shit, yes, the review! God, how nostalgia makes you forget! That and cider. But where were we? Oh yes, Fiend At The Controls. This album is in fact the reason for old Uncle 90210 to come over all nostalgic at ya – let’s be honest here, it’s been a long time since I listened to ASF, and this, being an album of deleted B-sides, mixes and demos, had not only a whole shitload of stuff (and yes, check it with the OED if you don’t believe me, “shitload” is the approved group noun for stuff) that I’d never heard before, such as the Inferno soundtrack, ‘cos, being practically the Unabomber, I don’t really know video games that well, and loads more versions of stuff I used to love and just haven’t heard for ages – “Dead And Buried,” “Manic Depression (Dub Mix)” – and at times like that, you just have to sit back and say “Fuck Yeah!”
So far, so unintelligible. But what (they cry, they scream, and someone has even just tried to carve on my forehead in desperation), the fuck does it sound like? Speaking minimalistically, an Electro rhythm section, some guitar and a bloke shouting. But that ain’t no kind of review, is it now? Let’s talk psychedelic experiences. The Orb, say, now that’s good music for good acid trips. Yes? Good, I’m glad you’re with me. Coil? That’s spooky ones. Sex Fiend have always dealt more with the “Christ, who the fuck am I? Shit, I have to go and buy some fags and milk” end of things – or that’s what I get from them anyway. Always too much fun to be a “proper” Goth band, yet too dark to be a joke; too Rock ‘n’Roll (in an Alice Cooper stylee) to be a Punk band; too Electro to be Black Sabbath, but too good to be Gary Numan.
There are some bands who think (the fools!) that Elvis is dead, some who think that He’s alive; Alien Sex Fiend, on the basis of their recorded output, are fervent believers in the fact that if he did die, and then came back to life, he’d be rockin’ more than ever. Oh, and there was a giant rat onstage. Like I say, it’s a Moment.
Alien Sex Fiend – Information Overload
Label: 13th Moon Format: CD
There is something at once comfortingly ordinary and outrageously Other about Alien Sex Fiend – the extraordinary seems such a part of the Fiends’ image that they wear it to the point of blending into the landscape of the musical landscape. Nik Fiend has always delivered his barbed couplets and blokish paranoia with the deadpan conviction of the geezer down the pub who lets everyone know just what’s wrong with the world in a highly entertaining manner, while Mrs Fiend gets on with providing the backdrop of sinuous, twisted electronic sounds as the instrumental powerhouse behind the ASF throne. Information Overload is their long-awaited follow up to the Techno trip of Nocturnal Emissions some seven years back (four if taking the improved and expanded Special Edition from 2000 into acount), and takes their sound into the Twenty-First Century proper with yet more devious purpose and infectious appeal.
When Nik snarls a catchy chorus of “Rape and Pillage in the global village” in the opening title track, his words twist the bitter knife of helpless rage at a world in self-inflicted flames and struggle, setting the scene for a familiar rampage through the ASF concerns – inequality, sex, pharmecuticals, mania and a hefty dose of simultaneous love for and loathing of humanity – it’s no wonder that there is a mocking “Parental Advisory – this record contains Nik Fiend” notice on the cover, though the bleeps inserted into “Motherf*cker Burn” seem an odd step for a band who have never shied away from a little swearing and seem a little unlikely to be too concerned about radio airplay being a problem, especially given the lyrical content of other tracks. Whatever the case, the mix of Rock’n’Roll and delerious electronics is especially evident here, with chugging riffs giving way to an elevated mid section of lilting synthetic voices, acoustc guitars and trippy vocal effects before crashing back gently to earth and the Dubby sensuality of “Baby”. This is a track where Sex Fiend have harnessed the bass walk and chopped up Reggae beat to an orgasmically-moaned intro into a typical psychedelic stomp sparked up with scrawling guitar and drum machine handclaps.
Throughout this album, the Fiends display their experience and magpie appropriation of any genre fragments for their own ends – “Gotta Have It” churns to a distorted gunshot Dancehall rhythm overlaid with all the Punky attitude (and guitar) they’ve held dear to their devious hearts since The Batcave days and beyond. The more they borrow and upgrade, the greater the Fiends’ abilty to pummel abd bemuse becomes, as is ably demonstrated throughout – where one effect will do, Mrs Fiend pushes it to the limit while Nik lets loose the scrapings of his psyche until the archetypes wriggle to the point of barbed simplicity, as he screams “It’s all for me – Fuck you!” as the song writhes and snarls to a peak of volume and egotistical mania suitable for a stage persona which sometimes manifests (as depicted in the CD booklet) as a grim comic-book Nosferatu. “Kiss Arse” and “Voices In My Head” flip into the other side of madness, mashing up digital percussion and bass in a dub frenzy of doubt and uncertainty, mapping the tortuous pathways of existential collapse on an electronic grid of recursive drum loops and multiply-devolved voices until the sense of delerium is palpable. The latter’s dreamlike state of drift and breathless descent through ambience and squidgily pulsating reflection marks a slowdown to Earth approach, Nik coasting in on the wings of his missus’ digital heavenly choir – “it’s like a symphony playing in my mind, playing over and over… those voices in my head”.
As with any good symphony, there’s a return, a coda in the shape of the upbeat groove of The Doors‘ “Five To One”, which conjours both the pilled-up bombast of The Happy Mondays and the harder sort of dancefloor Trance the Fiends were so fond of on the “Evolution” and “Tarot” singles, complete with speech synth and overlaid wailing guitar. As they traipse off into a brightly scrubbed new world with a flicker of delax FX, ready for another trip next time, Mr and Mrs Fiend can be proud of their recapitulation of the lysergic world of ASF on Information Overload. It is an album which has at least equalled the manic peak of the ecstatically-mindblowing Open Head Surgery while pushing their music yet further, something which Nocturnal Emissions in both its editions never quite achieved with the same degree of success, and as such is recommended to space cadets everywhere.
Alien Sex Fiend – Nocturnal Emissions (Special Edition)
Label: 13th Moon Format: CD
Mr. & Mrs. Fiend sure know how to evolve. First listen to this go ’round of Nocturnal Emissions admittedly made me wonder why they bothered with a pared down version of their sound. Production is nice, artwork is good, and there are the bonus tracks which is a quick mix or two of “Evolution “(the “Hup 2-3-4” mix, the “Back From The Dread Pt1″ mix” are new additions from the various EP releases here), but really what were they on about? Still, this being Alien Sex Fiend, I let it play over about a hundered times and realized just what growing up gracefully is all about.
ASF have moved swiftly through their own incarnations, adapting as they see fit to the ever fickle world of the alternative. Nocturnal Emissions is no exception. Though they still have the most loyal of followings from the Goth/Industrial world, and by their own choice have picked up stragglers out of the Trance/Dance scene, they remain able to throw off the shackling binds of either/or and retain their own pace, their own place as it were and do pretty much as they see fit.
Nick Fiend has definitely put his penchant for fleshy weird vocals to a depreciated minimum of late and takes even perhaps a calm backseat to getting the bizarre across in the beat. With this in mind, alongside rhythmanical Electro synthetics, Nocturnal Emissions turns out to be a dance record that could easily cross genre pollinate with whatever club scene it might happen to get accidentally (or better, intentionally) stuck in the middle of. Here and again, such as on “Room 101” and “Soaking Wet, Mate” there are nice psycho space breaks, as in the space you get stuck in when you take hallucinogenic remedies. “Big Blue Moon” calmly highlights some of the old Fiend depravity which is a personal favourite of mine. Still and all though, this is a dance record from the old pros who know the beat more than most. Who better really? The Fiends will never be accused of being slaves to the trendlines, but rather it would be a good approximation to realize that they are adaptable without compromise.
Alien Sex Fiend – Para-Abnormal
Label: 13th Moon Format: CD
Alien Sex Fiend were always a strange beast. A lo-fi Electro-Goth Punk band fronted by a demented Alice Cooper obsessive with a scatological sense of humour, they were a bit of a pie (probably a poo pie) in the face to the Goths’ sucky-cheeked solemnity, but still they lapped it up. Odd, yet strangely exhilarating, and quite unforgettable as a live experience, though to be experienced properly a Sex Fiend gig would by necessity mean chunks of the memory were missing, or at least very blurry. Then came a career in writing music for video games, back when nobody was taking video game music at all seriously as an art form. Nik Fiend, for all his shambolic glue’n’acid persona, is a remarkable canny operator, it would seem.
Para-Abnormal is a collection of remixes and live versions, dealing with the later stuff- there’s a stonking reworking of “Tarot” here (the “Full Tilt no. 5 mix”), which hits pretty much exactly the point at which the Goth club meets the bangin’ Techno party, without sounding like someone’s just nailed a new drumbeat to it and called it a remix. In short, it sounds exactly like waking up at about 5 am at a warehouse party that has got progressively more demented since you unwisely did that extra line of ketamine and passed out in the corner. “Evolution” is another track which benefits from the remix treatment, though here (“Back From the Dread pt 2”) it serves mainly to point out a previously unnoticed (by me, anyway) parallel between ASF and Psychic TV in their Hyperdelic phase. It’s another broken-glass-and-empty-cans-littered-dancefloor filler.
Strangely, while Para-Abnormal is a world away from the Addams Family/Cramps-with-beeping ASF of the popular imagination, it’s actually not hard to see where the two connect. In fact, it may even serve to draw people who would otherwise not have been interested into the fascinatingly idiosyncratic world of Nik and the Mrs. Okay, so some of it’s a bit Eat Static (“Information Overload”, for example), but surely that’s not a bad thing? And the Fiend vocal machine is in full effect, too, the snotty Punk singalong diatribes every bit as infectious as ever. It’s actually very hard to hear Nik singing without picturing that crazed white face bobbing around on that, well, just fucked, really, body. It’s a salutary reminder of what a fantastic music machine ASF are, rather than the novelty Goth act they’re often dismissed as.
Interestingly, nobody has succeeded in sounding anything like Sex Fiend, as far as I know. Not even a little bit. And while these mixes bring their sound a little closer to stuff you could imagine other people doing, at the same time, for the most part, it kicks ’em up the arse and straight into space.
-Deuteronemu 90210’s is Full Of Maggots-
Alien Sex Fiend– Tarot
Label: 13th Moon Format: 12″
T aking one of the best tracks from Nocturnal Emissions and sticking it through the electronic mangle, Mr. & Mrs. Fiend embark on a high-octane blast through all the Electro, Techno, breakbeat and goddam’ Rock machinations possible at once, topped off by Nik’s unchanged vocal style – demented. The amphetamine groove ASF have been on for most of their career seems somehow to be better suited to the chaotic Nineties, and what was once a crazed underground thing is now well accepted by millions of punters – and so much the better.
The “Seven” mix gets to freak out at the end, a reminder (if one was needed) that this is what the fiends do best, a psychedelic cocktail of those old favourites, sex, drugs and the obvious but poundingly updated, Rock and Roll. The “No.6” mix is a more straightforward Trance-out of dropped and echoed breaks, loops and bubbles, but none the worse for that, while mix-man Pod does his thing to the Dub version in fine bass-heavy style. Still somehow disregarded by the mass of Electronica/Dance culture, “Tarot” shows that not only were Sex Fiend enthusiastic pioneers of the warped groove in their own (unfairly mocked) field, but are also nowhere near irrelevant now.
All Time Present – All Time Present
Label: Bottom Feeder Format: CD
Some fairly intense improvisations from this New York trio of guitarists Chris Forsyth, Ethan Sklar and Rich Gross, playing what they describe as momentary music – recorded live without pre-arranged forms in mind. What emerges is often quite angular, as is often the case with such situations, and all the better for it. Each untitled track is identified only by the date and place of taping, either in NYC or Philadelphia, and a duration.
The sounds All TIme Present draw from their wood-and-wire totems gets through the gamut of scrapes, pucks, pulls and stretches of feedback, and with some complex interplay of the trio’s instruments it’s all good dirty fun as they sidestep and interact with each other, with Track 4 a particular favourite for its stumbling, staggering scrawls. It’s always a pleasure to hear people play instruments for the love of the sounds and textures they can wring from them, especially when the process itself is foregrounded so well. When they take of into flurries of atonal strums and runs (maybe other-tonal would be a better description), mundane terms like melody and rhythm take on whole new dimensions of meaning, sound pictures fleeingly drawn from the what would apparently sound untuned or discordant in other situations (the more conventional Rock or Jazz recording for example). The biggest problem is even beginning to describe the sound – the only option for those interested in the possibilities of guitar abuse is of course to obtain this record, and find out the joys of noise.
-Antron S. Meister-
Marc Almond – Stranger Things
Label: Full Fill Format: CD
O brother… The latest and first in a long while from Marc Almond proves not really worth the wait. In all these years, Mr.Almond’s voice has not been ruined or even changed very much from its previous glory, but it seems little else has moved on either. The terrible synth-Pop of the music is not quite as horrible as listening to S Club 7, but almost. The lyrics lack all of Almond’s former creativity and go more like pure hip Pop, Bacharach style. Almond almost reaches crescendos worthier of Bette Midler, but without her sense of humour. Perhaps his fanbase from the early Eighties will mostly have grown up and gentrified themselves enough to settle in for this easy listening. Personally I think I will try to forget ever having listened to this record and when in the mood for Soft Cell, go back to the old ways. Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret – there was an album befitting the be-jeweled man.
Though I don’t see the corrolation here for driving, the point is well expressed that if life is a motorway, some of it involves traffic jams. Alphastone presents a nice song of spacey textures laced with good gutiar and drum work and a tune that does stick in the mind. It is always a pleasure to hear from Pete Bassman (Spacemen 3) who seems to have an infinite understanding of life in the sllllowwww lane.
The EP includes remixes by Flowchart, Accelera Deck, and Pacifica, as well as Alphastone cast member Steve Janes. Flowchart’s take is a little too Disco-y, if you ask me, trying a little too hard to make a slow driving song quick. And they have that irritating electronic handclap thing way overdone. They do call it “Doinky” themselves though. The next two versions equally emphasize the ambient availability of the song, in different ways, with Pacifica losing it to the Dance thing. The best remix is probably by the band’s own drummer Janes, which highlights not suprizingly the valium-Disco drum parts.
This is a preview to the forthcoming album. Should be good, if this song is an indication. Very strong in the trance/dance/pop crossover catagory.
Alva.Noto – Transform
Label: Mille Plateaux Format: CD
Berlin-based sound artist Carsten Nicolai (a.k.a. Alva.Noto) has established himself as a leading member in the realm of electronic sound and visual design. He has performed and created installations in many prestigious spaces around. Transform sits comfortably between the dancefloor and abstract electronic art, between what might be found in a museum of modern art and what might be found rocking the floor. Carsten doesn’t use sequencers, instead the mathematically edits his tracks to create the structure. Glitches form the essential rhythms of sound, created with oscillators, tone generators, and modem sounds. The result is deliberate and utterly precise, always minimal, and somewhere between clinical and groovesome.
Mark Ambrose – Memory Status
Label: Force Inc. Format: 12″
Friend and collaborator with Alexander Purkart, Mark Ambrose hails from the UK – which isn`t that obvious listening to the record. “Memory Status” and “Offline” are very much in the vein of Synewave Newyork, hard clinical techno with warped tweaks of synthesiser floating around the rhythm. It’s good and solid Techno which offers little breaks. The handclap patterns, the cymbals, the weird metallic synthy tweaks, and the false stops and starts… it all points to the US. So I was rather surprised to find out that our man is from the UK, and pleased.
You see, I`ve got this dim view of UK Techno. Generally it’s either Goa-way Trance, Gabba/Trancecore/call-it-what-you-like-its-still-fucking-shit-core/etc, or nasty nasty Housey Techno. OK, there are numerous exceptions to this (Autechre, The Advent, Surgeon, Mick Harris, etc, etc), but this is what most straightforward Techno boils down to, and the US seems to do it better in my opinion. Less spiral revelations or pilled up inyrface good bloke-isms and more mechanised funk for your pound of vinyl.
This is where Mark Ambrose fits in, and “Memory Status” isn’t about to define yet another new genre of electronic music, but it fits into place very well – albeit on the other side of the Atlantic.
The companion LP to Amenti Suncrown‘s debut Zenith Pitch release, Golden Nadir holds a selection of darkling electronic atmospheres into the somewhat tighter space of suitably translucent orange vinyl. “Worm” calls out voices from the aether in mordant mood, oozing Lovecraft-style through the textures and piercing tones to presage things to come. “The Path Of The Mask” hisses and chimes into an elevated, contemplative state; gathered synthetic swirls and environmental crepitations promise nothing benevolent is out there, though there is a rising melody to the drones and sparks of brightness which hint at redemption in the ringing bells.
The slowly heaving industry which opens “The Tower” settles into the wheezing realms of heating-system atmospheres and emergent carrilion brightness of a child at play in the sun; matters become benificent as the clouds clear to a soothing pulse. Side Alpha draws to a fractured close with “Broken Mare”, where Danielle Booth‘s vocals are treated to the full ectoplasmic effects on waves of fractal splinters carved from whole electronic cloth and shredded gently into a nodding locked loop. The Omega side wells up in the standing drones and occasional bass impacts of “Ghostglass”, scoring a sharp trail of slow-motion movement among the quiet of the spaces between the bells and omnipresent meditating hums. “Under The Sun” is virtually a song by contrast, as the distorted voice of Russell Goodwin intones in an apocalyptic dreamstate to his flanged guitar and Robert Patchen‘s doomy bass while electronics decay in the undertow.
The electronic instrumental mood continues in “Oppenheimer Swarm”, as a sampled voice loops upon its own tail and outwards into a hall of echoed mirrors and fragmented husks of words estranged from meaning and brought to a grainy end in Babel. The concluding movement, “Tellurium”, shivers and shakes up a cluster of granulations and further deracinated phrases into a dry heave of samples and mixer tones, groaning out almost the on the edges of the groove itself until the final loop of condensed gutturals and irritating, wakening squeak. Golden Nadir is an oddly beguiling record which skims the fringes of Dark Ambient without descending into the banalities of the form, accumulating an apparent identity and mood for Amenti Suncrown in the process.
-Antron S. Meister-
Zenith Pitch has a brooding presence to it, founded on a sensibility which can in part be attributed to Russell Goodwin, J Paul Morton and Gary A. Ayres‘ shared enthusiasm for Coil, on whose mailing list they met, virtually speaking, and then decided to collaborate by email. Amenti Suncrown‘s “P’Zoar” has already appeared on the Coil tribute compilation At The Threshold Moment, and despite not containing much to connect it to that group, has an eerie echo of the material to be found on Balance and Christopherson‘s seminal Black Light District album.
The album is a multi-layered collection, flowing neatly from well-chosen filmic samples and reversed acoustic guitar loops to Electro-Acoustic shimmers. There is a recurring improvisational feel to proceedings, which lends an air of experimentation without descending into meandering rambles. There are parts where the rhythms emerge to a chiming, even Funky loops, such as “Blue Kephra” and “Broken Cone” which display a keen sense of structure, but unfortunately sometimes the keyboard sounds are also a tad digital and intrusively so. Still, despite this and the sometimes imperfect mixing of the analogue tones early on (which soon dissipates into accomplished sound selections), there is much more to enjoy on Zenith Pitch, and an obvious maturing of the sound throughout the album. The openness displayed is refreshing, with tracks evolving organically as audio sources make sharp turns or liquid segues into new pastures. Predictability is not the order of the day, and it’s especially pleasing to note that expecations are frequently misplaced by a burst of squittering noise, dark whispers or evocative flute trills, a whoop or whistle there, a wheezing emergent rhythm here, or the snickering sectioning of time itself on tracks like “Red Nine (Mirror)”.
One thing this CD isn’t short of is ideas, even if the execution may not always be entirely smooth in the conventionally accepted sense – and this too, can be advantageous, taking the frame of music’s construcion and shifting it slightly. Then a moment will come where everything gels quite excellently, such as the aformentioned “P’Zoar” with its shivery-feeling synth warbles, reprocessed Crowley samples and slow repeated keyboard chord, and the following “Dione (Questioned)” where an ominous, shuddering bass undertow is accompanied by yet more analogue flurries and a pervasive sense of unease. With further disturbances rising gently to the foreground as can be found in the spooky aetherial wails and churning synth sounds of “Messianic Metallurgy”, Zenith Pitch works extremely well on these occasions, and is highly recommended for in-depth exploration. There is plenty yet more to come from Amenti Suncrown in the near future, including the companion Golden Nadir vinyl LP, excursions into vocal tracks and collaborations with a World Serpent luminary, as well as a planned split 12″ with Jowonio Productions.
-Antron S. Meister-
Amps For Christ – The Oak In The Ashes
Label: Shrimper Format: CD
Banjo, drums, guitar, feedback, grit and short songs about various people and things. A little house on the prairie but without the mind-numbingly large amounts of accidents and natural calamities. This is a kind of American folk that, as with most folk, will go almost completely unnoticed – the boot on the fence along the information superhighway. Indeed, there’s a version of “Scotland The Brave”, wilting from the speakers with fuzz like a kilt. Dead? No, hardly.
And now sitar sits in on a softly sung Middle Eastern piece, “Nese”, and there’s an attendant squiggle on the “s” in that word but Microsoft Word don’t do that sort of thing. Jingoistic software? There is a deeply poignant sense of yearning and longing in these songs – or just what is it? Is the longing for a place in time or a place and time – or is it for something that happened in that long-ago, for which one pines but cannot completely identify? A perfume forgotten, a remark made and then suppressed, an item that is no longer made but made an impression out of the corner of one’s eye?
Is nostalghia just a case of mistaken identity?
Laurie Anderson – Anthology
Label: Rhino Format: 2CD
It’s easier to anthologise Laurie Anderson than it is to summarise her career. The compilation begins with her first recordings, “O Superman” and “From The Air” … the tape loops and vocoder tales from her first album Big Science. However, this is by no means the beginning of Anderson’s career as performance artist, musician, film maker, writer … the list goes on. Her song-stories are glances at politics, religion, and relations between men and women. As much performance and tale as music, with dark humour underlining them. “O Superman” is an appropriate place to start, all the same. It was her first single, and it was what led up to her recording contract.
The anthology progresses steadily through her albums: collaborations with Peter Gabriel on Mister Heartbreak and the soundtrack from her film Home of the Brave. Anderson’s songs have a much fuller sound on this album. Unlike a lot of her previous work, where different characters emerged through different electronics, she has a large group of backing musicians performing on Home of the Brave. With Strange Angels we find her discovering something new again: her own voice.
In the Nineties, after the ugly days of Reagan, Bush, and the Gulf War, her music and performances became increasingly political. Anderson’s songs return to her earlier simplicity – voice, violin, and keyboard. I’ll resist saying that she’s come full circle. It’s corny, misses the point, and anyway it implies completion which isn’t true. She says it best herself: “I never feel like I’ve ever finished anything.”
And now we’ve got new gadgets, and a new Bush …
Laurie Anderson – Life On A String
Label: Nonesuch Format: CD
Until hearing this I hadn’t given much attention to the work of Laurie Anderson. Not sure why. So I was intrigued to find out what I’d been missing and was pleased to see the presence of such luminaries as Bill Frisell, David Torn, Joey Baron and Mitchell Froom on the album. The combinations of various instruments looked promising too with things I’ve never heard like, baritone banhu, mixed with cello, violin, gongs, bells and samples. After that you know what’s coming, don’t you ? No, I didn’t like most of this at all. And I can say why.
Her voice may be clear and she perfectly enunciates each word, as on “One White Whale” which is the only track I actually enjoyed. But too often it sounds like she’s narrating for a Disney movie; listen to the opening of “Pieces And Parts” for example. It’s so twee and affected and the song is about whales again. I know, she’s done a project about Moby Dick but it still sounds 21st Century Disney rather than 19th Century Melville. Actually there is one other track I can listen to but it’s an instrumental, “Here With You”, featuring violin, cello and bass. Following that there are more strings and that banhu creating interesting textures on “Slip Away”, a sort of meditation on loss and death. Unfortunately, Laurie’s in portentous narrator mode, half-singing and half-speaking drivel like “Oh death that creep that crooked jerk.”
There is more narrative nonsense on pieces such as “Dark Angel” which is about the said angel parachuting into an abandoned town, following which nothing really happens in the lyric department. The potential for creating an interesting scenario is also passed over in “Washington Square,” where images of the city are loosely strung together but don’t say anything. And she tells some of it in that voice which really starts to grate. It does this too on a daft tale about snakes in Eden “One Beautiful Evening” where somehow Egyptian steam trains get into the picture too. The lyrics to this one don’t bear much scrutiny but include the kid’s rhyme about being a teapot short and stout and a few snippets of ‘hey hey nonny nay’. I wish I was joking.
The final lyrical absurdity, for me, comes in ‘Statue of Liberty’ : “Freedom is a scary thing/Not many people really want it.” I don’t believe I just heard that! A pity too that such a howler should obscure the interesting noises of gongs and violin that are going on behind it. So, I can hardly recommend this. I can only conclude that despite recruiting some fine musicians to accompany her and paying a great deal of attention to the packaging she actually wrote the lyrics without much thought or care.
Angel – Nr.1 > Nr.10
Label: Bip-Hop Format: CD
Ten numbered tracks make up this album (which may also be untitled), recorded live and unedited by Ilpo Vï¿½sï¿½en and Dirk Dresselhaus of Schneider TM using an equipment list which includes effects, CD player, amplification, typewriter and “the most fucked up electric guitar Dirk could find”. Indeed – and it sounds like it too, wriggling live and direct as the duo give it their improvisational best.
Monstrous scrapes give rise to equally thunderous crashes and blown drones on the echoplexes and delays, volume controls are set reverberating and that guitar really doesn’t sound well at all. Noise is everything, expression the key and sonic interaction the method – tensions uncoiled in febrile particulate sound which spasms as the players seek to maintain control, then let loose the knife edge of overwhelming noise. It is not always a comfortable experience to sit through, nor should it have been expected to be. Asking if the results are any good is a bit like wondering if the weather is well-composed – what is expunging forth from the speakers here is too elemental to judge in simple musical terms. In fact, calling it music is misleading – thaumaturgical sound management might convey the sense of barely-constrained acoustic forces at work.
This is not to give the impression that there are no dynamics or progress to the noise cavalcade – far from it – but sometimes it’s best to just fall back into an ear-bashing, and Angel are damn good at that. Track “Nr.7” even bleeps, clanks and rumbles, Pan Sonic style,in to an excoriated Industrial Techno prowling behemoth – washed in a deep vat of chip fat, naturally. Likewise, “Nr. 8” lets the typewriter of the apocalypse rip, and by the end of the track, the listener should feel thoroughly purified by the sonic purgative dredged from the bowels of the effects units. Quite literally stunning. The gradual climb down into ticking over engine sounds and feedback provides a gentle calm of sorts for the welcome relief of the concluding electro-mechanical reprise, skirling and droning fitfully. Angel just can’t let go without a final jack-plug wrench and the realisation comes that there’s an audience clapping their exhausted (somewhat Nietzschean) pleasure to echo the home listener’s at having persevered through the storm..
Angel’ In Heavy Syrup – Angel’ In Heavy Syrup IV
Label: Monotremata Format: CD
Instantly a flood of recognition and nostalgia. Growing up in the Midwest in the 1970s is something that tends to leave cultural marks fused deeply into the consciousness – sub- or otherwise. And there was a time when a boy could make some sort of living by collecting bottles and cans, as Michigan will give you anywhere from five to twenty cents for each one you bring into the convenience store. At such time, the loud-speakers were exceptionally loud. Loud enough to bring the nostalgia for an age yet to come (that of being a hessian without no aggression, swig puff puff) into fuzz and into focus. So too is it with these sounds – guitar, bass, magpie vocals and drum drum drums.
Is there an evolution in psychedelic music? Can the reworking of forms create something entirely new in what “seems” to be entirely old? Witness even the recent paper trail from In Search Of to The Blair Witch Project. The continuation of Psychedelia into today mirrors one of its most crucial concepts – that of birth and rebirth. Of course, “mirrors” are another of those crucial concepts…as is “concept” itself. Another skein running through this vein is that of Psychedelia’s desire to make others “see” what the psychedelic sees. Brotherhood or vanity? It is unclear…
Heroic strains of melody strumth forge ahead through the thickening syrup and degauss buttons, I can’t understand a word and it’s all evocative of a time past yet which somehow still beckons…
Angels Of Light & Akron/Family – Angels Of Light & Akron/Family
Label: Young God Format: CD
I don’t think it’s making too much of an assumption to say that Akron/Family are probably Michael Gira‘s favourite band at present. Having produced their debut, he then took them on board as his backing band (to all intents and purposes, Akron/Family are the Angels of Light now), and now releases this split album from “both” bands.
Insanely eclectic, Akron/Family slip from down-home American Folk to pounding Rock to demented Flaming Lips-style psychedelia without, it would seem, breaking a sweat. Anyone who’s caught them live will know just how hard they are to pin down- just as you think you’ve come up with a context or genre to cram them into, they’ll go all slippery fish on your ass and wriggle off into something completely different, gleefully resisting all attempts at categorisation. Switching instruments with gay abandon, they create a sound which is never less than fascinating, and at its best absolutely transcendent. It’s not hard to see why Gira fell in love with them- it is bloody hard to describe them, other than in qualitative terms- in which case, what I can tell you is that they’re very very good indeed. The seven tracks here are no exception- from the dark campfire/choral (there they go with those weird juxtapositions again) menace of “Awake” to the triumphant release of “Raising The Sparks”, Akron/Family take you on a journey through sound which can leave you utterly disoriented, but without ever giving a sense that they’ve lost the map. Chucked it in the fuckin’ creek, Blair Witch Project style, maybe, but lost it? Never. Basically, if you can’t find at least something to like in here, you are clearly insane, or maybe should reconsider whether you actually like music at all.
The second half (what would, in the old days, I guess, have been quaintly known as “side two”) sees Gira taking the mic for five songs. That rich, dark voice that simultaneously is, and is a million miles away from, the one that screamed on “Raping A Slave” all those years ago, is, as ever, on fine form, beginning with a fairly straight take on Dylan‘s “I Pity The Poor Immigrant”, while the Family/Angels/whatever serve up great dollops of twanging Country in the background. “The Provider” wouldn’t have been out of place on the first Angels album New Mother– for all Gira’s much-trumpeted “lightening of tone” there’s still a whole world of fear going on in these seven minutes. The real curio here, though, is a radical reworking of Swans‘ “Mother/Father”, in which the shrieks and bludgeoning brutality of the original are replaced with simple drums and a jolly singalong, with harmonies and everything! If the Manson Family had ever made it big as musicians instead of killers, they may not have sounded like this, but you could imagine them playing on the same bill.
The only criticism I have, really, could be levelled at any split album – half way through you want more Akron/Family, by the end you want more of Gira. But, you know, you could always just listen to it again.
-Deuteronemu 90210- “Being Vaguely Confused Since 1971!”-
Antenna Farm – Early Mess
Label: Phthalo Format: CD
Bringing together various portions of Antenna Farm‘s cut’n’paste environmental modifications, Early Mess piles on the noise and snips through the urban melodies which found their way through hybrid analogue/digital methods into their Powerbooks. Extrapolating and remodelling their way from the early days of turntablism into yet further abstracted areas of sound manipulation, the ghost of Musique Concrï¿½e hovers everywhere in their machines it seems, even when the devices are being fucked over in real time without the direct aid of software. Linear rhythms are not really on the agenda here, though engrossing inside-out moments like the bassy “Prowler” or the gentle scissors-reverb-snippet of “Macro Collapse” dance around the fringe of more palpably defined agendas and genres.
So the lurch into fractured, slippery rhythm on “Prowler Reconstruction” is as much based on tensile metallic half-beat reverberations as the following “SW2xG3” leans towards the avant garde cacophony of snickering electronic shimmer and execrated noise. There is an urge present to take the smaple challenge – identify the sound source, place the reverb setting and extract a pattern first time round on the screwed-up fist of digitalia. Then there’s the urge to surrender to the guttering flicker of static amplified to painful levels, to dissolve musical expectations in a slew of distended acoustics, to bathe in the mechanisms pushed over the edge. The fulcrum point eventually explodes into the cyclical whipcrack splutter of “Hesh Round”, a glorious assault upon the ear’s instinctive defences against noise which folds out in a post-impact gong decay. Where there are moments that are difficult listens in theory, there are other tracks whose hinting at forms of sound construction where the edges and shapes may be generally familiar, but largely the individual placements are freshly strained throughout.
If Early Mess has a definining characteristic, is is probably to be found in a prowling sniff at just how much the disparate sounds can become unified in the dubspace between contact mic, environmental collage and digital studio abstraction. There is a greater concentration on the effect of processing on the indivual sounds themselves and their concurrent placement and cross-pollution in a sequence than the glitchware electronic pulse of much of the click and cut (re)generation. The real world remains a constant presence, at least as reference point, throughout most of the tracks – as heard bouncing off the crevices occupied by a woodlouse or termite gnawing on those tasty cables right up inside the warmly resonating machinery, and the occasionally consequent short circuits which result.
-Antron S. Meister-
Label: Korm Plastics Format: CD
– Here To Go
Label: Korm Plastics Format: CDS
Marie-louise Munch applies quiet Julie Cruise-like vocals to Kim Hansen‘s calm, repetitive programming to create a lush Ambient chill out music ever so reminicent of Portishead.
This is a beautiful piece of sound, completely calming and seductive in that it draws the mind out of frenetic thinking into more pastoral reflection. The sounds go from spacey drones to sublty piercing highs. There are nice organic sounds of nighttime creatures blended over deep reverberating low tones and pulses, and ocassionally a fairly strong beat is thrown in. “Here to Go” and ” PPG Hold PRG 11″ feature very blue movie feelings, kind of in the David Lynchian school of bad bad mystery and proves that Antenne could do a great job at soundtracking strange film noir. What the music lacks as a whole in originality, it makes up for in very special singular noise usage; a rainstick here, cricket and birdsongs there, a heartbeat monitor. There is a definite dark and sinister feel, especially in the Jazziest moments and most of the tracks come up as sparsely romantic.
My favorite tracks are “Let Me Ride It”, which does the best at incorporating the natural with the mechanical, and “Something Not To Do” which puts together a very mismatched bit of orchestral synthesis with a bubbly chem lab rhythm track. Ms. Munch sings in a more full-bodied way on this track which makes a much more complimentary statement to her ability. She really just puts more guts into it and sounds so much less directed than on any of the other songs.
For those who love “Here To Go”, there is an extended CD available with a few too many versions in my opinion. The edits pale beside the full version, but there are remixes by other artists including Full Swing, Zammutto, Acclera Deck, Metamatics, and Geiom. The versions vary just enough to create a 30 minute plus Ambient set before it gets tiresome. I think Antenne have captured the art of hypnosis through repitition and the full length album #1 has some wonderous moments towards that end, but to be honest, all the remixing of the most Pop-like song seems to me a bit of overkill.
Apparat – Duplex.remixes
– Label: Shitkatapult Format: 12″
Duplex.remixes is a vinyl-only 12″ with four remixes from Apparat‘s stunning Duplex album: an album full of glitches, rich instrumentation, textures, and emotions. Unlike a lot of electronica Duplex sounds all too human. Apparat avoids the usual electronic pitfalls of sounding like a theoretical exercise or a purely mechanical assembly line … or as Shitkatapult say “Apparat bypasses the mundane and empty laptop sounds of the giant sweat-shop of electronic music.”
The four remixes set the same high quality as the original and capture the moody atmosphere of Duplex. Thomas Fehlmann takes the delicate piano melodies and rhythms of “Schallstrom” and produces dubby Techno that is easily the funkiest remix on the EP. Seattle based L’Usine Icl reworks “Contradiction” into drifting vocal and instrumental textures reinforced by crunchy Electro beats. Apparat’s vocals are still present … just. They are processed to the point of no return. The result is laid back veering towards melancholic. Monolake takes the complex sax laden “Steinholz” and creates a deep organic sounding remix. Anders Liar‘s remix of “Wooden” is the most minimal track on the EP. He reworks the original into droning distant voices over a stripped down insistent bass drum.
If you pushed me for favourites … well I might have to go for L’Usine Icl and Monolake. I find that mix of Electro, atmosphere, and texture all too irresistible.
Hans Appelqvist – Tonefilm
Label: Komplott Format: CD
Combining soundtrack work with the actual noises generated by and samples from film and its mechanical apparatus, Tonefilm allows Hans Appelqvist free reign to play with the audio side of cinema. Through a series of short scenarios composed of spoken word snippets, jaunty or melancholic paino melodies and electronic glitchworks, the CD hops and flickers from a brightly-drawn introduction into the realms of darkened auditoria on an unwinding reel of film.
The filmic moods range from the pastoral cycles of acoustic guitar and sparse downtempo electronic beat construction to more unsettled soundscapes of dialogue fragments in several languages. The conversations drift past like overheard transmissions plucked from the aether, passing moods more than direct sentences. A virtual babel of restated phrases and banter seeps around the wheezing sequences and gently evocative guitar, never quite holding into any particular place, but passing through from painterly tranquility to urgent drama in the course of one track. “Crescendo” is made from the sharp intake of breath and its expulsion, raspberries and other labial fricatives turned into a shuffling rhtyhm accompanied by an equally Jazzy piano, the human beatbox rolled upon itself in a virtuoso display of restrained sample manipulation.
Probably best listened to with eyes closed and flickering to the whirr of the projector rolls as they turn, Tonefilm brushes past the ears and heads straight for the area of the brain where disbelief is suspended in the interface of darkened room and light on screen. As with most cinema, it’s a once in a while experience, and one to watch.
Label: Mute Format: CD,2LP
First thought about Imperial Metric is not just how obviously Eighties-influenced it all sounds in its instrumentation, but also how much like a particlar sort of European early Nineties post-Industrial Electro; moments from Dark Star‘s Travelogue spring to mind in particular. The way James Brooks phrases his lyrics is a bit like a laid-back Young Gods song; the dynamics of each song owes a lot to minimal Techno, Post-Punk and moody Synth Pop, and it’s all undeniably infectious, worming in on pulsing bass and automated drums sprinkled with all of the uniquely springy, whooshy, twisty sounds of analogue synthesis and subtle digital editing.
Appliance‘s music sways, shimmers and grooves along with elegant ease; those warm electronic sounds snickering and gliding across each other as repeated melodies twinkle in the instrumentals, with some restrained guitar, real or otherwise, lending a twinge of emotion. Heartbeat percusion, lilting keyboard plateaux, dubbed-down tempos with a merest hint of slapped-back breakbeat make for even-tempered companions as Brooks reflects huskily on the duality of human consciousness, observes the world outside, ponders on the loss of a space race, tastes and feels water… Like the lyrical content of Spacemen 3 and the wistful out-there qualities of Spectrum, sometimes it’s not just the words so much as the half-awake, otherworldly delivery that is important here, and it sometimes sounds like he’s dreaming aloud. A hallucinatory groove and distanced lyricism rules everything, and Appliance have made it work to pleasant Elecrto effect with a light touch on Imperial Metric.
Arab Strap – Philophobia
Label: Chemikal Underground Format: CD
Let’s face it, first impressions last. And as first impressions go, lyrically, you can’t get much more lasting than “It was the biggest cock you’d ever seen/but you’ve no idea where that cock has been.” And thus, the tone is set for Arab Strap’s Philophobia. We know, straight off, that we are in the Strap’s sordid domain, a world of mornings-after, of spunk-stained sheets and “Packs of Three”. A world, basically, like the one the Tindersticks inhabited on tracks like “Jism” and “Drunk Tank”, only stripped of its romanticism. And most of the instrumentation. Despite the amount of players on this album, the overall feel is one of minimalism, both lyrically and musically.
There are times when you think Aidan Moffat is a frustrated performance poet, but there are also times when you think that without the music, this is just some pissed guy in a pub. And therein lies the charm- or otherwise- of Philophobia. This isn’t songs- this is stories set to music, sometimes sung, occasionally just spoken, but always with a delivery born of apathy; there is no “I’ve gotta tell you this”, more “an’ yeah, what happened was…”
One for lovers of the oral tradition.
Puritans need not apply.
Aranos – Magnificent! Magnificent! No One Knows The Final Word
Label: Pieros Format: CD
Anyone familiar with recent Nurse With Wound releases will have come to recognize the short string strokes of Aranos peppered throughout the music, though perhaps recognizing less his contributions to the overall sound – Santoor Lena Bicycle and Acts Of Senseless Beauty were credited jointly, after all. Magnificent! Magnificent!… offers a continuation, an expansion on the surrealistic imagery found on the NWW discs, falling somehwhere between the Folk and Gypsy tunes of Aranos’ Bohemian background, the bizarre melodies and vocal delivery of Tom Waits or The Residents and an avant-garde worldview.
By turns melancholy and reflective, the album flows erratically from scrape to percussive figure to noise-cropped environmental soundscape with a moving ease. Sometimes it seems that Aranos is singing gruffly in another language, but it turns out to be English, delivered with an intonation which is wholly Eastern European. Swept piano interior chords, clattering cans and cowbells make for dramatic fellows to the ever-descant strings in “Calm Splashes Drown Airports”; the mood is slower still too in thematic fragments such as “Welcoming Body In Blossom-swiping Rain”, “And Floats My Unthinking Elevator” and “Runaway Warmth Whirling Alone”, which bows metal gleefully at frequencies to set the teeth on edge. As the discordant cutlery of “Memory Sleeping Only Cloth-wrapped” underscores a dreaming tale of cities and towns far distant to Aranos’ home on the West coast of Ireland , propulsive rhythms make themselves more than at home in the repeated bowed figure. Wavering dance tunes on fiddle and mandola accompany a hand drum on the infectious “Bed Down On Blackened Feathers”, while Bernard Tobias and Al Tiernan add drums and bass to Aranos’ violin on “Regarded Retarded Life In Bernard’s Kitchen”, where spine-scraping pitches creak and squeak as the rhythm section does something only very distantly of the sort. May-Britt Mitrovic‘s wavering Mezzo-soprano brings yet further resonances to “In Soft Cavities”, her wordless vocalising segueing into the customary theme.
The switchback slide from identifiable songs, melodies and thence to the joys of found percussion and abstracted Electro-Acoustic manipulations which characterises Magnificent!… keeps everything well and truly on its toes. “Spirit Fragrance” is possibly the most invigorating tune on the record, with the violin rising and whirling magnificently to the plucked rhythms, as Aranos sings his (and possibly someone else’s) heart out in fulsomely surreal style. It is a real pleasure to find joyful melancholy made inseparable from seriously gleeful experimentalism like this, and as the thoughtfully-spaced notes of “Ocean’s Bed Is Aflame” sustain gently for 23 minutes through bell chimes, scratch and sussurus at the album’s close, a quiet calm is soon apparent in the rise of deeper gong tones, and a pizzicato farwell.
Another of the delights of this album is the packaging. Made from fair-traded Nepalese paper and strips of bamboo, the hemp string-tied gatefold cover is a thing of hand-made artistry in itself. Furthermore, Aranos has opted for an experimental anarchistic disribution, whereby he sends out the CD and the listener either decides how much to send in return, or to give the CD back. How many times does that happen? So seize the opportunity to participate in yer actual overthrow of the record business, to support an artist directly, and most importantly, to get some challenging and beautiful music.
-Antron S. Meister-
Aranos – Magnificent! Magnificent! No One Knows The Final Word (A Second Opinion)
Aranos has brightened my day once again, this time with a CD called Magnificent! Magnificent! No One Knows the Final Word – Its unique distribution scheme alone makes it a pleasure, but when it arrived this morning wrapped in real estate adverts from The City Times, (I like the three floor family house in Bedford Gardens for only 1.25 million Pounds) I really was surprised -it’s certainly the most beautifully packaged CD I’ve ever seen, with a spine made of real bamboo, covers made of handmade Nepali paper intricately pressed with wildflowers, and a pair of hemp ties attached with beautiful purple clasps. Looks as if he made it just for me.
Magnificent! is as playfully mysterious as its title suggests. Track four, “No, Ha! Spring Was Her Need” is really remarkable, like a drunk Indonesian Tom Waits meets Steve Stapleton on the Trans-Siberian Railroad with Paganini and Smithsonian anthropologists in tow. All of his CDs have demonstrated a remarkable openness to experiment – it’s as if the usual authorial/artistic concerns with voice and consistency had somehow just never entered his head. Each song is a springboard into entirely new worlds of musical possibility. In “Memory Sleeping only Cloth-Wrapped”, a dark and drifting violin composition like those of Transfixiatio abruptly segues into a surreal monologue about Tantan the town toad, followed by funky clicks and cuts worthy of Thomas Brinkmann. “Spirit Fragrance” is a simple Slavic folk tune gone awry – his lyrics alternate between frantically shouted a la Zelwer, and slyly declamatory. The entire album is tied together by an elegant recurring violin phrase which in “Night Offers Her Face” is delivered to the apparent accompaniment of beer cans being crushed against a forehead and kicked down several flights of stairs.
You simply MUST avail yourself of this aptly named & eminently collectible cd – but be prepared to fork over enormous sums of money. You’ll see why -It’s worth every penny. Go to: http://www.aranos.com for a breath of fresh Korean air, and then go to his Brainwashed website for details about his refreshingly simple order and payment arrangements.
Aranos – Making Love In Small Spaces
Label: Pieros Format: CD
Making Love In Small Spaces reels and roams from an evocative description in “Russian Tanks” of the time when Soveit troops arrived in Aranos‘ native Bohemia to praise of indolence in “Steady Job”. As the latter song declares “I’d rather be poor/homeless and insecure/than pay taxes to support your system”, reeling in multi-track delight and reedy gloom to a loping string bass rhythm, the violins slipping and gliding with mischeivous high tones as the sheep declare their preference for fresh air over government and city living. As the tempo rises into a bleating whirl for the conclusion, the fantastic imagery of a row of sheep dancing into the twilight of their empire in Irish echo of The Seventh Seal springs irristibly to mind.
From time to time Making Love In Small Spaces brings Aranos’ concerns with personal freedom and musical ellipsis to the fore so strongly that it becomes quite overwhelming. The descant falling off of melody into a whirl of strings and fragmentary drum machine beat is as likely to speed off into a lugubrious Eastern European Folk dance tune as into avant passages of undefinable abstraction where his keen ear for dynamic maintains an occasionally outrï¿½sense of melody. Sometimes songs like “New Guitar” or “Never So Good” with its resonantly toe-tapping telling of the avoidance of work in a welfare Disneyland hold hints of The West (to Amrica or of Ireland) as much as the East, but Aranos inhabits his own gruff world of surprising arrangements and swinging environmental sounds.
While there’s plenty of vibrant Gypsy spirit meandering it’s own merry way throughout the album, there is as much a sense of immanent gloom too, in the sighing and groaning or the accapella self-sufficent choir of “Nervous Breakdown”. Its spasmodic bursts of manic violin and blalaika among the dejected piano which wanders through the Blues and out again where the stream of consciousness flows into the mordant love song “Black Eyes”. Whatever the mood though, Aranos displays his compositional and performing talents admirably throughout, polishing things off in darkly eccentric style with plenty of disarming flourishes of brilliance peppered throughout some of the more esoteric stretches. The former promote listening to the latter though; as while some can be less accessible in their arrangements at first, they soon become old friends through a familiarity which derives from taking the challenge they offer to give a proper listen to the hesitant amorousness of “Likes Me Too”.
It is perhaps an offhand tribute to his skill to say it, but one of the things which makes Making Love In Small Spaces work so well is the instant familiary of several of the songs above which makes it appear as if some are cover versions. That they are all his own work reveals not only Aranos’ knowledgable positioning within the various forms he expands upon and references, but also his mastery of the techniques in doing so.
-Antron S. Meister-
Aranos – Tangomango
Label: Pieros Format: CD
The latest slice of peculiarity from Aranos finds him delving into Tango-tinged Surrealism, swept up and unfolding on his idiosyncratic Eastern European violins, smacked solidly up against Electroacoustic underpinnings. As ever, the multi-tracked solo sounds feel ageless, wayward and separated from the normalities of mundane existence – Aranos’ deft touch as much informed by the landscape of the West coast of Ireland (the accompanying booklet provides several photographic glimpses as well as semi-abstract conjunctions) as by his Bohemian roots, various sorts of avantgardism, and the inner space of dreams – and there are lyrics provided here as well to ponder the glittering depths of their stream of consciousness.
A word or two about the packaging: Aranos’ releases usually manifest themselves in unusual wrappings, and Tangomango is a particularly fine example. A hand-stitched purple cloth sleeve holds pockets for the booklet and CD itself, the whole held together with a beaded fastener, the whole effect figuring somewhere between a careful child’s handicraft and the ethos of DIY artistic production. In the face of digital downloads and file-sharing media players, this approach makes the purchase of Tangomango worth it for the sensual pleasure of the record itself. But even without the trappings, lovingly prepared as they are, the album itself develops a haunting affect, the hints at worlds within and without streaming and wavering from the pizzicato strings and swipes into abstraction: the compositions gliding liquidly from songs and upbeat 3/4 time swingers like “69 Waltons Yamamoto Noodles” to the droning stasis of “Chammomile Galaxies Waiting” where electronic processing meets the scrape of strings holding time hostage.
Aranos’ long term pacifism finds expression in the discordant dissection of British military slogans about “tabbing” and “yomping” and music in “Broken Eights”, as the sound of a corps of drums staggers through a multitracked vocal about “wavering pink soldiers” while a lone drummer loop marks disjointed time. “A Day Shot” brings elements of slow electronic pulsations together with a windy melody, the distinctive voice of his violin swelling from simple strokes into a lyrical accompaniment to his baritone vocals about miniskirted fishboats. The evocative “Julio Cruz” shimmies sensually on rolling percussion and further electrifying string melodies and production which brings Aranos from distant observer to intimate conversant with disarming adroitness. The whole is highly atmospheric, even if the meanings may be so personal and specific as to be elusive of interpretation by the listener: but who said art has to be easily digestible in soundbite-sized chunks of pap?
Tangomango is about as far from Pop as it is possible to go, and so much the better for it, without in anyway losing the evocative intensity of music from the soul which communicates meaning through songs as much as intricate electroacoustic meanders. Aranos belongs to a still-evolving tradition which is simultaneously ageless and drawn from several eras, the whole complementary and delightfully self-sustaining in its abilty to be separate from mundanity.
Scattered, tattered tapping scraping – an attack of the nerves? It’s difficult in these days to refrain from trying to figure where sounds come from, and how they’re made. Is there an innate tendency to rationalise? If so, how long has it been there? Ultimately, repetition can be divined. Is there naturally a rise from chaos to order – as apparent in the pieces so far – and, it follows, vice-versa? A watery burble escapes here and there. Am I only scratching the surface?
An impression of a sealed environment arises. And if the sounds are not to be pushed around, what about the critical eye? How deeply can one look into the scratches in this recording? How deeply should one look? The gradual fades of some sounds contrast with the sounds themselves. Where is the issue of “beginnings” and “endings” examined? The kunstkampf of the kunstkopf shivers the sounds from one speaker to the next. Again, there is a sense of these sounds coming from somewhere, going to somewhere. Or just where is it?
The sounds breathes out, through the speaker cones, testing its environment. An extension of the breathe-r? The shaking of the sounds becomes fuller, more pronounced. Is the situation of “shaking” – the environment that’s being explored? And how many shakes are there in repetition? A rather thick booklet accompanies the recording, chronicling several art actions and Musique Concrï¿½e, including live actions concerning Le Livre Sonore. A case of put up or cut up?
Arkham – Arkham
Label: Cuneiform Format: CD
Remember Magma ? The French band whose Basque vocalist sang in a language invented by their drummer ? One of the truly original outfits of the Seventies or, perhaps, one of the most laughable. It depends. Anyway, two thirds of prog trio Arkham became part of that mighty/dreadful ensemble. Remember Arkham, then ? Probably not. They were formed in Brussels in 1970, were ‘very popular in the Benelux region’ for a couple of years but did not release any albums. Until now that is. The sleeve notes, or whatever you call them on CDs, apologise for some of the sound quality but it’s no worse than, say, Live At The Paradiso by Soft Machine. Though on one track it sounds as though someone is throwing stones at the drums.
It was the band’s intention to develop the Arkham sound along the lines of the so – called Canterbury bands like the Softs and Egg and it is possible to hear echoes of those very English trios in Jean-Luc Manderlier‘s keyboards, particularly his Hammond organ. The fuzz-organs of yesteryear indeed. Some of his compositions use patterns and riffs that wouldn’t be out of place on Egg’s The Polite Force or the Softs recordings before they expanded out of the trio format. They use shifting time signatures and spiky, angular organ solos that veer towards Jazzy improvisation whilst retaining a melodic line, much like those played by David Sinclair on early Caravan albums.
There are tracks recorded in 1970 including, the fabulously titled, “Monolithic Progression With Anticipated Rupture”, which showcases the influence of Soft Machine’s experiments with repeated riffs and tentative steps towards free form. Imagine some of the second side of Soft Machine Volume Two and you’ll be close. This free or impressionistic approach is also evident on “Bleriot : Visibility Poor” where they create a kind of electric fog through which Manderlier’s organ swirls and eddies. In 1972 they added a couple of extra instruments to the line up though only the electric flugelhorn of Claude Deron was captured on tape. It shows the band moving further into Jazz territory, as of course the Softs had done. “Riff 14” further exemplifies the technique of building up layers of riffs though, I assume, without the use of extensive tape-looping which Ratledge and Hopper explored. As for Deron’s flugelhorn, it does add another colour and allows Manderlier to lay down some gentle electric piano grooves without the need to solo himself. These final recordings may not have the fire that Soft Machine could raise when the trio was augmented by Elton Dean. But they do show some of the potential the band might have developed had two of the team not been poached by that linguistically inventive demon drummer, Christian Vander. As another instalment from the Prog Rock archive I think you could do worse than give this a listen. Of course, I believe that Magma are still around…
Army Of Ghosts – The Horror
Label: Parallelism Format: CD
Hackney. Shit. I`m still only in Hackney. Every time I think I’m gonna wake up back in the jungle.
It starts with gunfire, then a brief snatch of reggae, then the jazz comes on. Jazz? Yes, soldier, jazz. This is not, as you might surmise from the Vietnam imagery on the sleeve, some kind of Industrial or bad Metal thang. This is not even, as you might surmise from the picture of two guys, one in shades, on the insert, a sub-Suicide noise thang. This is an avant-Jazz odyssey into the heart of darkness, and believe you me, this motherfucker goes all the way up the river. And then some.
Drums being carpet-bombed left right and centre while a tenor sax swoops overhead, dumping huge quantities of sonic napalm all around the perimeter. If John Zorn and Oliver Stone ever declared war on one another, this is what it would sound like. And it`s fucking scary. Every now and then, just to break up the mayhem, a voice recites lines on the horror of the Vietnam War. And that`s all the light relief you`re getting, other than the brief pauses between each movement. This sounds more like war than any number of cock-rock wankers, even if the cock-rock wankers were actually shooting at each other. The sheer fucking unpredictability of the Free Jazz medium doesn’t let you relax for a moment, even in the quieter passages. Even out on a clear night with no sound but the buzzing of bugs, you just know there’s a sniper out there. And he’s got a saxophone. And probably a vibraharp too. Not to mention a fuckload of cymbals.
Apart (obviously) from the Jazz element, there’s something to this that reminds me of Crass‘ Reality Asylum, or Current 93‘s classic Dog`s Blood Rising; the random bursts of fucked-up poetry, the anger, the sheer fucking sonic chaos. The third part starts with a fantastic sample of a Vietnam vet railing against a country that sent him off to war then wouldn’t let him talk about it “Cuz it`s kinda upsetting around dinnertime… Well it upset a lot of people to the point where they’re fucking dead”, before the Jazz noise kicks back in, as embittered and angry as the speaker. Drums fire small-arms, and the sax responds with everything it’s got. And the war goes on.
Outstanding, Army of Ghosts. Outstanding. Get your case of beer for that one.
-Mistah Deuteronemu 90210, he dead-
Artist Unknown – Control
Label: Disko B Format: 12″
Okay, the EP’s actually untitled, but it features the mysterious duo’s previous hit “Control”, so seem to be known by that name for better or worse. “Control” itself is a fairly demented slice of Electro, wheezing back and forth on a squeaky synth, an minor electric piano chord here and there, and an arpeggiatiing bassline to make the Eighties live again. That and the effected voice declaiming that “I am under control of a mighty force” and it all makes some kind of late-Disco sense, and so much more fun than the current obsession with, say, ABC (ABC!!!).
Likewise, anyone who titles a track “The Piper At The Gates Of Detroit” has got to be on(to) something good – even if it sounds more like Ultravox than Derrick May – that is until the very distorted robovoice kicks in with something extremely unintelligable to those not on a higher plane – and they’re probably not telling. As for the drum-machine boogie of “Siechen” – it’s quite adequate, if a little under the spell of Jan Hammer, but phased synths get the vote every time whatever the rest of the track’s shortcomings. “Düsseldorf” rips off “Funkytown” bigtime – but that’s allowable too, as almost eveyone’s got a little bit of Disco in their soul, even if the drift into synth-Pop becomes a tad wishy-washy. It also fails completely to even briefly invoke the spirit of Kraftwerk, despite the title – which makes a nice change.
Artist Unknown – Errorist
Label: Disko B Format: 12″,CDS
“Errorist” itself is a sleazy Electro snarler, grinding our a prowling bassline and schlurping percussion to the accompaniment of brutalised keyboard reverberations, while one of the mysterious Berlin duo moans and groans the lyrics. “I’m in your brain” he observes, as the chords trill off and his own mind melts. The remainer of the EP is remixes from the Future album. DMX Krew emphasise the Eighties lyrical stylings of “Anthem” to the maximum while making his own bleepy Two-Step remodellings slip and slide for a strangely futurist-retro sound for a change, complete with re-garbled analogue synth expansion.
Mï¿½tini Brï¿½ are Melissa from Chicks On Speed and Jan Schade, and their take on “Control” brings up Schade’s cello for what appears initially to be a lenghty swooning intro, but soon turns out to be the string backdrop to Melissa’s characteristically quizzical lyrics make for a surprising interpretation of the somewhat bombastic Electro original. The contrast could not be starker. Highfisch & Diringer, being trendy Berlin DJs, pump up “The Hole/Das Loch”, slewing off the instrumentation into a deracinated purr over a stripped-down beat. Their translation of the English words into Japanese and then on to German is somewhat opaque to non-German speakers, but it’s the process that counts sometimes. Perhaps they also did something similar to the bass and drums, because they’ve come out somewhat garbled in turn – but enjoyably enough.
As a bonus, the CD single has David Harrow‘s mix of “Anthem”, spruced up into a stomping genuflection to the legacy of Georgio Moroder. Filtering the bass, pulsating keyboards and percussion through a variety of phases while Vocoding the original words into still more extreme hands-in-the-air territory than the original, Harrow acheives every remixer’s aim and surpasses the source for sheer floor-filling grooviness.
Artist Unknown – Future
Label: Disko B Format: CD,2×12″
They’re back and dressed in white, to suit the retro-Futurist take on Electro they’re purveying here, the undercover duo who like their synths vintage and their vocoders set to eleven. They may possibly be from Berlin, but they’re notorious liars and wear masks all the time. Just like the sleeve pics which show them running around various brightly-lit environments with big lamps in their hands, they’re kitschly fun sorta guys.
Opening track “Control” is straight off their last EP which didn’t actually have a title; “Piper At The Gates Of Detroit”, “Siechen” and “Funkytown”-revisited track “Dsseldorf” are taken from the same source too. All are still just as deranged in their blending of synthpoppy funk and crispy Eighties beats’n’bleeps with occasional squirmingly distorted vocals or moodily uplifting FM synth chords as appropriate. “Danclikespastyx” has a mildly offensive title, but the squeaks and clipped nodules which make the basic melody for some arpeggiating, defiantly midrange synths, to chirrup around are brightly enjoyable enough. “Mantra Debil” lopes along in flanged-bloop mode, taking the inevitable autobahn to Komputer world, while “Luvgun” is strangely like Iggy Pop at his most downbeat meshed with lo-NRG beats.
Artist Unknown‘s sense of humour is somewhat scathing, as the title and tunes of “Standing On The Shoulders Of Midgets” Parts 1-4 show; each takes a naggingly familar Eighties melody or clichï¿½ and pisses around with it for a while – “Part 1” uses their name as a vocal squirm over a shuffling brushed-drum beat; “Part 3” shuffles a beat around some electronic whistles; “Part 4” might rip off Cameo. Elsewhere, when they call a track “Anthem” they mean it, with handclaps, big swirly 303 stabs plus DX7 curlicues and all, topped off with ridiculously pompous lyrics to match: “The music is loud and the time is right/So follow us to the other side, tonight”. The spirit of Ultravox lives with a German accent, and is even more amusing when it’s delivered deadpan.
Future is a funny, post-modern romp through as many Electro forms as the dynamic duo could manage in an album; recommended for the simple reason that it works on its own level and never lets pretension get in the way of bashing out some storming tracks along the way.
Masayo Asahara – St Agnes Fountain
Label: Discus/Audiolaceration Format: CD
What would you make of a release that is described as a forgotten classic from the 1970s Japanese drone-Prog-Jazz underground ? Would you run screaming out of the room rather than listen ? That seems to have been the reception afforded it on its initial release, when it received one lone, and less than complimentary, review. The hapless reviewer cited Terry Riley, LaMonte Young in collision with Faust and Magma and called the composer, Masao Asahara, a mad woman. Now, does it sound intriguing?
Well, it certainly shows how much you can do with a single organ chord sustained for an hour, which is the foundation for this composition. You can shift it through various filters, tape loop bits and generally manipulate it, then you can drop some subliminal sounds into the mix and see if anyone notices. This is pretty much what happens on the first two tracks, invitingly titled, “Begin and Continue”. They make up half of the recording. If drones are what yank your chain then this is Drone Heaven, and some devotees of Riley will find refuge here too.
There isn’t much change on the next couple of tracks, except for the addition of some minimal bass and live sounding drums. Track 5 comes alive thanks to a Mike Ratledge-esque organ solo – yes, Soft Machine were another of Asahara’s influences. It threads its crabbed way across the sustained din of manipulated noises, a bit like Ratledge guesting on a Faust jam, if you can imagine that. To follow there is a short trumpet solo that sounds like it was recorded in a large barn full of buzz-saws and angle grinders, which would further highlight the Faust connection. There is even the self-explanatory “Jazzy Freak Out” before “Closing”.
So this was Prog Japanese style in 1974. It has to be said that it sounds more interesting than other more recent releases which is a pretty sad indictment really. There are plans for live performances in 2004 involving, among others, Martin Archer who does a mean Ratledge organ impression himself. Whether it will gain any more followers remains to be seen.
-Paul Donnelly –
– The End Of Augustin
– Ai nSecond Dam
– Spirit Of The Wardrobe
Label: Solstice Format: CD
I think that I am prepared to give anything a fair listen so I gave these three CDs just that. To begin with I was intrigued since there was very little information with them and on all three the track titles were the same only adding incrementally the title of each successive cd. The cover photography by Asano was quite attractive too, in an ECM sort of way.
Now, having listened, I would like the three hours of my life back please. The first cd sounds like life as a small and helpless insect trapped inside a huge, broken foghorn in a factory full of them. Broken foghorns and insects, that is. Respite comes in the form of a holiday in a web of rusting piano strings, amplified of course. If migraine could be recorded it would sound like this. If any despot has run out of ways to inflict slow psychological suffering on an enemy this is available. It is probably cheaper than any alternatives. A Second Dam takes that process further. It consists mostly of a high pitched sound, slightly modified, over 67 minutes. If you want to sit in a room and listen to an unbroken high pitched noise for this length of time you need help. There is no respite this time. Unless you count putting on Spirit Of The Wardrobe which contains large sections of silence interrupted by brief random noises chopped from some unknown source and dropped in at unspecified intervals. A bit like opening a door to a sound-proof room then closing it quickly. At first I thought my CD player was faulty.
There are people out there who will defend this and dredge up fatuous creation theories to support whatever it is Asano is doing. Don’t bother to explain them to me. As I’ve said, three hours of life have already been sacrificed to this. Enough.
Koji Asano – Flow-Augment
Label: Solstice Format: CD
Long strokes of the upright bass give rise to a question – how much stock is there in projecting one’s emotions across a sea of sound? How much “listening” happens, at that point? Regardless of how self-centered the “listening” process is – someone is hearing “something.” A feeling of descent jumps from other strings. Level of degrees? A violin’s strokes are underpinned by a lengthy resonance. All instruments make their voices heard – an argument? A flock of statements? And where does the timbre and temper of voice make itself known in instrumental pieces like these?
Piano and almost a tuning-up of strings. Fine-tuning. Piano to the fore, then strings and their striking insistence. There are some touches that might be seen as “cinematic” – cues? For what, to whom? And is this another way that music is listened to in the modern age – as a soundtrack, as a piece nonexistent individually but instead hinting at belonging elsewhere? At points it is as if each instrument casts off, casts out for direction – but this is not to say that the sounds fall aimlessly to writhe and die on the ground. Their movement is almost as that of leaves in the wind – scattering hither and thon and then welling up in unison to form one billowing amber cloud.
A shake of notes tumbles forth from the piano, and the strings follow – running a race through the air and then tumbling into more measured tones. Looking tentatively around some undiscovered corner, the strings indulge in self-play until the piano – nestling mother – involves itself in some amount of structure, into a final flourish of all into all.
Koji Asano – Preparing For April
Label: Solstice Format: CD
The piano stretches, sand across its wilderness, much like the attendant cover of the recording. Would that a LP version could have been afforded, if only to see the larger view of the photograph! Perhaps one day…and “one day” is the underpinning of a preparation. Is the piano prepared as well – or is it the recording of the sounds that it makes? It’s sand through the microphone, a bit, or dust from another time, from an crack into the attic and down to the parlor floor. What is the fine line between “memory” and “reminiscence”? Is it “regret”? Is it something wholly other, undefined yet lying tantalisingly within reach, gotten to by a key in “gee” or even a microtonality?
The notes rain down, to urge April closer – the girl, or the season? Starts and stops trickle across the keys, as though this is a very old recording indeed. Is time given to practicing lessons counted in “time lost”? Or has it simply fallen through the cracks between the keys, to be unearthed and retaken at a later date? It’s rather like the first time the piano is looked at closely, and how long one can make the plink-plonk sound last.
Koji Asano – Quoted Landscape
Label: Solstice Format: CD
This is something of a landmark, being Koji Asano’s twentieth solo release in the space of far fewer years, and it opens up with the sound of the wind. This wind could be as easily electronic as environmental; buffets of noise wash against the microphoone, and at intervals a rather large bass presence emerges from the depths of the single 72-minute track. Quoted Landscape demands as an absolute necessity that it be played at loud volume through the most capable speakers available, or on headphones. To do so is to be enveloped in an alternate reality, where the sound of the onrushing crackle, wafts and breezy booms takes over the ears and senses.
By no means simply monotone in the rustle and shift of the wind’s dynamics on the microphone, the moments of noise come chaotically as a change of direction pushes the air at right angles directly iinto the mic and out of the speakers with a jolt. These peak interruptions are the most obvious moments of change and transfigured sound, but a continuing sense of dislocated presence, as the title itelf hints at, pervades this recording.
AS11 – 5000m New WR
Label: Antifrost Format: 3″ CDS
Greek conceptual audio artist AS11 presents the sound of running to break the 5000M New WR (World Record), pre-, during and post- acheiving the record. Heartbeat. Breath. Pulse. Put this on headphones and go jogging and see what happens to the heartrate – would it be a help or a hindrance? Apparently the current record, held by Haile Gebereselassie of Ethiopia, is 12 minutes 39.36 seconds, so of course each track takes the listener through the paces surrounding the record attempt itself at the appropriate durations, including the pumping heart muscles afterwards and a settling into near silence. It’s all quite a strange set of experiences to listen through, a form of virtual audio reality, especially on headphones. Consequently, a full run through is also rather tiring, but without raising too much of a sweat of course. The ultimate in sports couch potato voyeurism?
A78 is Lars Tängmark and the firsat thing that’s noticable about Intervention! is (apart from the effective, minimal sleeve) is that he’s obviously a big fan of The Legendary Pink Dots, or more specifically Edward Ka-Spel as the very melancholic “Wave Goodbye” demonstrates early on. Another bonus is that this and other songs like show that Lars’ singing voice and delivery are quietly haunting, soft and treading a fine line between enuiui and sorrow. The CD also shows an affinity for the more mournful end of synthesizer layerings and the joys of the digital delay and its associated pitch controls, subtly-used too, which is often easier said than done, as found on the propulsive, circulating ambiences of a track like “Lonesome Cabin Omission”.
Not that this is a full-on Goth misery dirge of an album – the electronics take pride of place, snippy, psychedelic samples ticking over and around each other. Percussion is simple but effective, any the compositions are largely drifting journeys from gentle beginnings into more intense concentrations of shade and texture, and on the whole pretty effectively too. Melodies are often glimpsed and hinted at rather than the foreground element of most of the pieces here, though “For The Vanity Of Youth” steps into acoustic guitar singer-songwriter mode, somewhere in that Tim Buckley arena of fragile, timelessness – or even, and it may or may not be a put-down to say this, but somehow Simon & Garfunkel spring to mind, only more electronic and without the harmonies. Likewise “We Will Meet Again” and “June Afternoon” ride bittersweet swinging chimes on those circling harpsichord-style synth arpeggiations and lilting bass rises which Ka-Spel has made his own – but to dismiss this as mere copyism would be entirely unfair.
There is much to enjoy anout Intervention!, and the mix of songs and more abstracted instrumental synth pieces is well made. Add in decidedly odd whoop-up samples and regurgitations which meld into hissing, chugging noise on “Gothic Upright /11fff11” and the album shows that Tängmark knows what he is about in the creation of some intriguing distractions, pleasantly sinister sounds and whimsical melancholia of curiously affecting dimensions.
-Antron S. Meister-
Ash Ra Tempel – Friendship
Label: Manikin Format: CD
The dawn floats in, into the sea and down from the mountaintops, you rise and make coffee or tea for someone that you know will be gone soon – but, one doesn’t think of such things in times of breakfast or breaking a fast. The sounds well up from beneath the water from the faucet and as water seeks its own level, so too is this exceptionally fine fuck music for mornings tinged with spring and edging into summer. Tendrilled fingers wend their ways over the guitarspace as the drumming enters from a desert someplace.
Three very long and loquacious tracks on this album. The shaking of the rattle, intermittently, skips over the synth wash and bassline holding it up, like abandoned cities in the Mojave. Now a curve of classical guitar, pulled out of the dry air like a bullet in flight. The guitar soars and cores in finality, elegiacally writing a cloudbank across the sonic skies. To re-emphasize – it’s great fuck music, especially at lower levels, and your plants will grow because of it.
Ashra – Sauce Hollandaise
– Label: Serie Poeme Format: CD
The cornerstone of Kosmische has been its love affair with that situation of journeying. Joel Vandroogenbroeck wanders around the world, Timothy Leary launches seven up on a “trip,” Hartmut Enke travels deep within and the Tempel is removed from Ashra at one point. Tearing up the plans, tearing down a temple’s walls? It is not for nothing that London’s April live action saw no old songs performed. Beginnings and endings – though not just yet, for that last bit. Kosmische is utterly suited for the compact disc because it can be set to repeat infinitely. Kuckuck‘s final sound was that of the cuckoo clock. Time and circles.
Of course the beat is everpresent and metronomically so; the rhythms could be extended indeed for weeks and this time the trip is clean and clear. This message floats in the slowly-seeping water – launched through that ocean of time, to some one, for something – knocking against the glass in errant percussion and muffled drip of sea seeking some other level than its own. What was the song that played when your child was conceived? Or when you first lost your burgeoning virginity? Another message, a different bottle. And the question that started the journey itself is another matter in itself.
ASVA – What You Don’t Know Is Frontier
Label: Southern Format: CD
ASVA‘s second album is a stunning array of dark landscapes and textures. It’s scale is truly epic. Somehow I can’t get the film Dune (directed by David Lynch, of course) out of my head. What You Don’t Know Is Frontier would be the perfect backing music. It’s that epic.
Helmed by Stuart Dahlquist of Sunn0))), Burning Witch and Goatsnake, Asva include other members of the aforementioned bands as well as Earth. Perhaps Earth is the more telling than Sunn0))). This isn’t an album of drones. What You Don’t Know Is Frontier has the slow soporific melodious feel of the recent Earth albums like Hex (2005) or Hibernaculum (2007), but with more distortion … sometimes. It isn’t an album that is swamped with noise and Asva aren’t afraid to let explore the quite empty spaces. The album has deep meaning for Stuart Dahlquist. What You Don’t Know Is Frontier is part of the process of understanding the loss of his brother Michael, something I can all too sadly relate to. It is an album written with emotion. The sense of loss and absence can be felt in the great empty panoramas of sound that Asva create. The opening of “A Game In Hell, Hard Work In Heaven”, with gentle guitar and organ, is a moment of beautiful tranquillity. The massive riff that follows rolls along at geological speeds.
There aren’t many metal albums, prog drone or otherwise, that can be described as beautiful. What You Don’t Know Is Frontier is one of them.
Atari Teenage Riot – Atari Teenage Riot 1992-2000
Label: Digital Hardcore Format: CD/2LP
How to sum up Atari Teenage Riot? The simple way to review this album would be to say that if you haven’t yet been exposed to their combination of breakbeats, polemic and sweet, sweet noise, you owe it to yourself to buy this album. But that’d maybe be a tad lazy. Okay, put it like this. Remember Crass, the legendary anarchopunk innovators? Okay, well imagine they were all still young, renounced their pacifism (maybe they found Keith Flint eating a hamburger or something) and decided to kick the living shit out of the Prodigy using their own instruments. It would probably sound a bit like ATR.
After an immaculate scam involving pitching themselves as a Punk Sigue Sigue Sputnik, grabbing a huge cash advance and then recording Delete Yourself, an album clearly designed to be unreleasable by a major label, ATR frontman and glamorous revolutionary Alec Empire used the cash to set up Digital Hardcore Recordings, released Delete Yourself, and embarked on a life of sonic crime. The album was a glorious mess of bangin’ Techno and shouted slogans, including a cover of Sham 69‘s “Kids Are United” of which Jimmy Pursey could never have dreamed. Tracks like “Hetzjagd Auf Nazis” (“Hunt Down The Nazis”) – also included here – should have left people in no doubt as to where ATR and DHR were coming from (though a later label release, Patric Catani‘s Attitude PC8/Hitler 2000 caused problems when distributors wrongly thought it was glorifying Fascism).
It was the follow-up album, The Future Of War, which really cemented the Atari Teenage Riot sound. From the anarchist bulldozer Hip-Hop of “Destroy 2000 Years Of Culture” to the classic riot anthem “Deutschland Has Got To Die” (“The bloody wankers try to put us down – but we are gonna smash them in!”) The Future Of War was a pretty definitive statement of what this by-now legendary “music to start riots” actually sounded like. By the next album, 1999’s 60 Second Wipeout, Japanese noise diva and star of DHR-Fatal (DHR’s women-only imprint) Nic Endo had joined the existing line-up of Empire, Hanin Elias and Carl Crack, and the noise element became simultaneously more refined and more chaotic. “Revolution Action”, culled from the album, also sparked controversy when its utterly amazing video featuring an anarchist virus taking over a corporate office and causing the workers to rip off their clothes (and faces) and smash the place up- very silly, but utterly exhilirating, though the end scene (with the band torturing one of the whitecollars who they’ve tied to a chair) was given short shrift by the guys at MTV. The ATR legend seemed unstoppable- gigs erupted into good-natured riot, with Alec Empire even saying once that he hadn’t let the legendary Royal Festival Hall gig in London degenerate totally into violence only out of respect for John Peel, who’d booked them in the first place.
Tragically, Carl Crack died (less than a week before the terrorist attacks on the World Trace Centre and the Pentagon, and the declaration of the ongoing “War On Terror”) in 2001, robbing the world of one of the most vital and impassioned bands around, just when it needs them the most- Empire has said there will likely be no reunions – “I don’t think it would make sense without Carl Crack”. If you’ve never heard them, and are the slightest bit interested in noise, then this album is an essential introduction to the world’s sexiest anarchists. If, like me, you’ve religiously collected all their stuff, this is a great collection of the best of it (with choices and tracklist chosen by Empire himself, it’s about as good a collection as you could wish for). There’s plenty here to smash barricades to.
Atari Teenage Riot were a real one-off, and neither they nor Crack should be forgotten. This album is about the best monument to them they could be. Until the next generation of sonic terrorists come along, it’s all we’ve got. Man the barricades!
-Deuteronemu 90210, hurriedly stuffing some cotton wool into the neck of a bottle
Atari Teenage Riot – Rage EP
Label: Digital Hardcore Format: CDS,12″
Yeah, bring the nnnnnnnnnnoise!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Atari Teenage Riooooooooooooooooot! Kicking hardcore riot beats! Fuck tha Police! Slogans like “Our Governments Are Fucking Murderers!” Tom Morello from Rage Against The Machine plays Punk guitar – a band who’ve gone up in some people’s estimation of their politics since the police riot (“Let the police/out of their cage!”) after their free gig for the demonstrations outside the Democrat convention in Los Angeles earlier in the year. Another activity ATR and RATM share is signing deals with major labels and then spending the cash on activism and supporting other bands and causes, rather than faster, harder sports cars and the like. Kick-ass.
There’s a storming sub-bass-heavy remix of “Rage” with MC D-Stroy at the mic with Hanin Elias and Alec Empire dropping in the screams too – this is the best ATR have been for a long time; and don’t forget, they’ve been stormingly good all that time too. Big music for jumping up and down in the teargas clouds, with tears of anger, resentment – and rage too no doubt – at the state of it all. Will ATR play in pre-IMF Serbia next? Last up on the music front is another take on the raucous “Too Dead For Me“, now fully established as an ATR classic. Then, as is now DHR’s habit, the CD single has an MPEG of the “Too Dead For Me” included to spit yet further ire against the forces of bio-tech capitalism, with the Digital Hardcore commandos on the infiltration case once again, broadcasting guerrilla music from the back of a trojan horse corporate truck.
Atari Teenage Riot – Revolution Action
Label: Digital Hardcore Format: CDS,12″
They’re back! Everyone’s favourite anti-fascist German Gabba outfit fire a warning shot before unleashing what promises to be a veritable… well, blitz, I suppose, with next month’s long-awaited new album. So, what we got to set light to cop cars with here, then?
Title track “Revolution Action” I probably don’t need to describe, except to point out that it sounds like Atari Teenage Riot always do, only maybe a bit better, if such a thing is possible. “Punk as fuck” is the obvious journalistic cliché, but for once the cliché holds true – like Crass remixed by Meat Beat Manifesto then played a lot faster, this is music to smash states to – or failing that, to drink loads of Special Brew and jump up and down in your room to (while planning how to smash states, obviously). “No Success (Digital Hardcore Remix)” goes all out for pulverisation- this is a chaotic, painful, scary, angry, beautiful sound that starts at the beginning and doesn’t fucking well finish until it’s fucking well got to the fucking end. ALRIGHT?
The wonderfully-titled “Your Uniform (Does Not Impress Me)” falls somewhere between the two, with Hanin Elias and Carl Crack providing most of the vocals, but it is the last track, a live version (for anyone who thought this stuff wouldn’t work except in a studio… FOOLISH MORTALS) of “Hunt Down The Nazis” which truly shines, old-skool Gabba but writ much larger, much louder, much more righteously angry; but unfortunately, much shorter than ever before. But fuck it, why quibble over the length of a track when you can play it again… and again… and again… until your neighbours have no choice but to forcibly remove you from your stereo, no doubt in some kind of Waco-style siege (although if you’re holed up in there for 51 days, you’ll miss the album release by ages). Digital Hardcore – still loud, still politicised, and still kicking the shit out of Techno. Long may they riot.
-Deuteronemu 90210 and his Situationist Uprising!-
Atari Teenage Riot – 60-second Wipeout
Label: Digital Hardcore Format: CD,2LP
As we approach the Apocalypse (and for those of you who think I’m exaggerating, have you seen the news lately? The indestructible Oliver Reed is dead, for fuck’s sake! Doesn’t that mean anything to you?) it is becoming more and more important that we have some kind of soundtrack to this (Millennium‘s use of Patti Smith notwithstanding) so we’ve got stuff we can be pissed off that we can’t hear when our electricity goes. Kind of.Anyway, 60 Second Wipeout, the newie from Alec Empire‘s technopunk terrorists Atari Teenage Riot, could well be on the playlist (or otherwise) in such an eventuality.
Boasting inner sleeve artwork (probably consciously) echoing Public Enemy‘s seminal Fear Of A Black Planet, it sounds kind of how you’d expect, only more so. Kicking off with single “Revolution Action”, the boy Empire and chums (Nic Endo now a full-time member, and, as recent interviews have been at pains to point out, as active a producer of noise as Empire) belt through a 13-track set that leaves you thinking it was only a couple of minutes long, and you have to listen to it again. This time around they have some friends manning the barricades with them- Dino Cazares (of Industrial Metallers Fear Factory), hip-hop act The Arsonists, and Kathleen Hanna (survivor of one of the better Riot Grrrl bands, Bikini Kill) all helping them lob their musical Molotovs at coppers.
Again, ATR use lyrics that are much better shouted than written on paper, and again the beats are hard and fast. This time, however, there’s a bit more of a hip-hop element (albeit a very fucked-up one) to the proceedings (think Meat Beat Manifesto trapped in a food mixer- and surely a Jack Dangers collaboration can’t be far off?) “They want to cut an advert out of your dreams” claim ATR on the wonderfully inflammatory “Death Of A President (DIY)”, and it’s clear that this time round there’s a bit more poetry to the polemic, but don’t worry- there’s plenty of Situationist sloganeering as well – “The revolution and I”, “Fuck the intellectual warheads”, “The new Auschwitz is hiding/A nation is accused” – there’s plenty here for DHR‘s T-shirt designers to be going on with.
As their recent wonderful live show indicated, Carl Crack is taking a larger role now, providing a foil for Empire and Hanin Elias‘ Crass-esque (if such a word indeed exists, and if it doesn’t, then it fucking well should) rantings. By rights, this should be an absolute shambles, but ATR managed to rein the chaos in just enough to make it coherent, but with enough rough edges to take the skin off your ears. It’s all like a precisely-guided missile packing one motherfucker of a warhead, aimed simultaneously at your head and the White House (and not, as NATO may recommend, at civilian convoys, railway bridges, or the Chinese Embassy. Collateral damage? Fuck you!). There’s definitely more of a sense of this being a Band (or maybe terrorist cell’s a better analogy) now, rather than an Alec Empire project – itself a rareity in electronic music, where traditionally artists have been content to let personality slide by unnoticed. This is an old-skool Punk band playing ultra-modern music, and their much-maligned “cartoon” image can only work in their favour- this is cultural, as well as sonic, terrorism, and now DHR are UK-based, we can only hope that their profile will increase and they will get the recognition they deserve (fuck critical acclaim- this is music that needs an audience, not fawning muso bullshit)- even (spit, spit) Virgin Megastore, who looked at me blankly only a few months back when I asked about DHR product are stocking the wonderful Bomb 20 now, so it can only be a matter of time…
Come the revolution, this is the music that Burroughsian (again, if there’s no such word, then English is a crap language) Wild Boys will be playing out of windows to start the riots that will jam a grenade up Capitalism’s arse- or something like that. Whatever. Long live the First DHR International!
-Deuteronemu 90210 The Teenage Witch-
Atari Teenage Riot – Too Dead For Me
Label: Digital Hardcore Format: CDS,12″
Now this really is the shit. Everybody’s favourite anarchist noise terrorists ATR are back, and as recent live shows have amply proved, there’s no sign of them slowing down on their aural assault. “we won’t calm down” indeed. The title track, taken like it’s predecessor “Revolution Action” from this year’s awesome live grenade of an album 60 Second Wipeout quite simply ROCKS. It’s BIG, it’s LOUD, it’s NASTY and it’s loads of fun. Righteous indignation, waving your fist in the air, shooting Nazis, Breaking Stuff To Make Music To Break Stuff To. Noise, Gabba Techno, mad Punk riffs, shouting. Fucking wonderful.
If ever music needed repoliticising, it fucking needs it now, when even governments seem to be losing interest in politics. Along with Asian Dub Foundation (also shit hot, but not for my money in quite the same league), ATR have taken this job head on, coming out of Techno (admittedly an unlikely breeding ground for Situatuionist rhetoric) and dragging it into the forefront of it’s role as “the new Punk” (remember when that phrase was bandied about constantly?) and making it louder. “Like a toy without belief, like a seed for the Fascist society, you! You are too dead for me!!!!!!!!!” shouts Alec Empire, and cop cars explode around him.
Then we get “Revolution Action”, plus a mad fucking mix of “Anarchy 999” – one of the best tracks on the album, where guest HipHoppers The Arsonists shout “The world the world the world is on fire!!!” and it feels literally true – and a totally incredible live recording of oldie “No Remorse”, still an important part of their set, with Hanin Elias again urging the audience to “Start the riot!!”. Whether they did or not is unrecorded, but on the strength of this track, they fucking well should have – Drum & Bass to burn flags to. And in case you still think of ATR as “cartoon Punks”, just try imagining Scooby Doo with an Uzi jammed up your arse.
The really fucking great thing about the CD version of the EP (sadly absent from the vinyl unless there’s an MPEG file encoded in the run-out groove – but it’s also available as a Real Audio stream from the DHR website) is inclusion of the infamous “Revolution Action” video those thought police and kings of subliminals at MTV deemed unsuitable for broadcast “at any time”. It’s fucking ace too – some kind of computer virus sweeps through an office complex, triggering scenes of faces turning into computer animation, general insanity and much smashing of computers.
Quite a groovy little storyline runs through the video, even featuring spoken dialogue and subtitled thoughts, until the band show up and menace an exec tied to a chair. In short, I can’t see why it was banned – unless maybe the fuckers in charge found the whole corporate depersonalisation theme just that little bit too familiar..? If riot sounds creat riots, this video should by rights be broadcast and projected on every flat space available – just to see what happens. It’d be a start.
Start the Riot!
-Deuteronemu “No Gods, No Masters” 90210, Scourge Of Capitalism-
Kenneth Atchley – Fountains
Label: Auscultare Research/Ground Fault Format:
“This is sound not of waves, nor ripples on the surface; but on top of that: the foam, the embellishment.”
And so on.
Contact microphones are x-d with black duct tape to shiny trashcans on the cover. In the liner notes, there are descriptions of things done while the concept and execution of these fountains were realised. Going about his business, taking in culture, listening, watching, reading. A fountain of information and influence and inspiration to go along with the more easily-identifiable water water water seeking its own level. And along with the sound of water, in the mind, comes the scent of water itself as it is said, long-term olfactory memory is almost unassailable and can a more measured approach to sound somehow encourage a triggering of other senses, even the sixth or seventh sense?
At times it seems as if the waterfall has expanded to encompass a great and grand cathedral, water crackling like blocks being torn asunder and then rebuilt yet again. With cascading water as the backdrop, all manner of unnatural sounds find their way into the slipstream, detritus amongst the eddies, changing the channels and the riverways all the while. Static enters the fold and wobbles the speaker cones as if they were acorns bobbing on an angry and shifting shore, against the backdrop of a slowly lowing foghorn and a gathering wind. A slow fade of water off to the horizon, and then the dripping tap emerges. You know, previously, listening to a dripping tap for 20 minutes usually meant a call to the plumber. A banging on metal, amidst the drip drip drip, blossoms gradually from nowhere. A sudden stop, and only the gently moving soul of water remains, along with all the heavy sound that it potentially can carry
Atlon Inc – Main Things
Label: Force X Format: CD
With 14 years of production behind him Atlon Inc., the current alias of German producer Rob Acid, knows how to make banging Techno. Main Things is aimed very much at the dance floor, but it’s more than just functional dance music. Rob Acid has produced stripped down and bare album of Techno that demonstrates that aesthetics and the dancefloor aren’t mutually exclusive.
Attention Industries Meets Patricia Elaine Oakley – Pattern Of 1
Label: Heimelektro Ulm Format: CD
Michael Zimmermann meets Patricia Oakley in a series of gently Ambient scenarios and produces some mesmerising Electronica. There’s barely a harsh note on the CD, which makes a change from other releases in this genre. Zimmermann’s arrangements use textures from certain kinds of Jazz and rhythms from all over the place. Take a track like “Dee One”. It has a simple wash of keyboard over a bass figure plus lots of percussive effects. Then the piano gets a little more dense and the piece is filled with clusters of choppy chords. They too fade and we are back with a minimal drum beat and keyboard that drifts in and out of your head. The effect is that of a superior soothing Lounge music.
A faux sitar jangles against the tablas on “Camouflage” as a bank of strings slips into and out of the shimmering haze. All very redolent of a Sixties movie that probably only exists in my imagination. It leads into “Face The Fact” which showcases Oakley’s almost spoken delivery in among the acoustic guitar and percussion. Her voice doesn’t force the lyrics on you, though their message is clear and urgent. I like the way she’s another instrument in the carefully chosen layers of sound. For some reason it reminded me of late nights near deserted beaches with the sound of surf breaking and hotel lights set back among parched hills. It has nothing to do with the actual words but that’s the atmosphere the music suggests. Oakley’s voice is a little more to the fore on “Ridin’ In Your Room” as the drum and keyboard sketch out a minimal canvas. A little bit Portishead but without Barrow at the decks. It still exudes a muted air of danger. Music and voice are well matched and the mood is carried on through “Your Time Has Arrived” though there are flurries of flute that scurry across the darker regions of this terrain and lighten it a little. Lighter too, perhaps, is “Ornament” with its repeated keyboard motif, tabla and melodic Moog solo.
This is a Soulful, Jazz-influenced series of atmospheres for late nights with incessant rain outside and summer nowhere near. It’s often warming, despite the occasional moments of threat and menace.
Attrition – The Hand That Feeds
Label: Matrix Cube Format: 2CD
O hail and wail, the Goth revolution lingers… In glorious cinema-like splendor, Martin Bowes and Attrition present us with a double CD collection of some of the most little known but well done Goth extravaganzas chronicling some seventeen years of persistent vision and beauty of sound. Over time, Mr.Bowes and his various collaborators have done much for the bringing together of electronics with raw form music, and though I doubt anyone would rush to give credit to him for this, perhaps we should re-think it all. Attrition is somewhere just to the upper left hand corner of the Gothic world, riding off-center of Industrial Dance and crawling out from under some stacks of baroque centuries old Classical. There is a definite remembrance involved in listening to this collection of the late Eighties/early Nineties, a time when gay clubs in America were just about the only haven for lovers of the darker side, for the kids who wanted to paint themselves and go dance. Now of course, this is all just a fashion statement in the minds of many, and goth clubs turn into tourist attractions in almost every city of the world.
Every now and again, one can hear the question being asked concerning how it is that over and over again there is this resurgence of the black-clad, death abiding, vampire worship trend in outcast youth. How does the market rebuild itself over and over and over and who are the icons of the genre? Certainly there is no danger of thinking that death and darkness are only explored by children of recent times. As Colette wrote in 1936 “…There is always a moment in the lives of the very young when death seems as natural and as attractive as life…” and one only needs to study history, of any time, and any place, to learn that youth has always speculated on the wonders of the dark, on the nether.That this preocupation has found its way to expression in modern times through musick and through its surrounding cultures and fashions should be of no suprise. As for the icons of this mystery in the sense of now, Martin Bowes deserves to be considered a major force in the proliferation of darkness as a way of light.
And how polite and considerate of Attrition to put together this sort of “Best of..” to waken the memories and pull down the shrouds. I have caught the big lump in my sad throat with almost every track, carried back and heralding my own zombie walk through youth as I listen and remember. It is only now with this nearly 20 year perspective that I realized how much of that was soundtracked by Attrition. Less obvious in name than Bauhaus or the late Roz Williams and his Christian Death, but nevertheless as powerful and influential. Perhaps more so as Attrition did give us that bridge from vampire land over to the isles of the likes of Skinny Puppy and Coil. And Goth-Industrial has led a lot of us back into early Jazz and Blues and further still past to all forms of Classical music and literaure and art. Forever there will be the speculation that the exploration of darkness as a beautiful place will lessen our fear of it all, ease the pain a little.
The Hand That Feeds is like a sweet melancholic map through the years of this apparent dream. From 1986 there is the eighth track “Dreamsleep”, from the album In The Realm of the Hungry Ghosts which speaks of all this, and all like this, “I have climbed the peak to seek new sensation/Can’t retrace my steps trapped in my own creation”. Then there is the matter of the other CD in the set. This is a collection of remixes. I do not generally like remixes, don’t understand the idea behind it. Why bother with others’ interpretations of someone else’s musick? Still, this being now, and now being the time everything is rehashed for dancability, I will say there is a certain fun in having the subject being some of the world’s slowest music turned fast. Like chasing up the barbituates with E’s. No big suprise, but the best effort on this portion of the set is “I Am (Eternity)” by Chris ‘n’ Cosey. Less clubby than the rest, more true to the nature of the music and therefore quite more in the traditions, C&C’s version almost succeeds in not exploring the what if of Attrition having been an millennial rave band. Almost. Actually, I want to go to the club which plays Attrition remixes and explore for myself the idea of dancing faster, if not happier. I suppose it can be said then that this remix album has opened my mind to the idea more than any other, and it is still Attrition after all, and thankfully recognizable as such.
NOTE: Mail order copies of The Hand That Feeds comes with a limited-edition CDROM of Attrition live in San Francisco – see the website for details.
Aube – Blood Brain Barrier
Label: Ytterbium Format: CD
“What’s that sound?”, from the other room. Brain-wave sounds. Electroencephalograms. “Okay, whatever turns you on…” And so on. I think what he meant to ask was, “What were they thinking when they recorded this?” Which is an incredibly salient point. The sounds come from those brain-waves but what thoughts engendered those waves? So often these recordings by Nakajima-san are tied thematically but what lies behind those themes? The rhythmic ravens call names and cross a jungle to fly again, and again. One raven flows into another, and becomes a duck, dipping into the ocean, never coming up – instead flowing into a raven, and so forth, and so forth.
The brain-waves travel down through their brother pulse, onetwo onetwo, and then the waves come crashing down across the seashore, filling the fauntanals and seeking their own level. A measured time emits while the chaos of other signals tatters the synapscape. Various high pitches voyage through past the body’s systems until gradually fading to pitch-black. The sounds calm unto rumbles, pacing, waiting, as if asleep in some way. The sound – or the brain-waves themselves? It’s as if the sounds create a body for themselves – calling to other sounds to join cell to cell, growing and aging into something that will be revealed…
As if transmitted over radio waves – much like the body does – the sounds beat together, warble apart and build in intensity, gathering more laboured etchings with each thought carrying through. As the final moments of the piece group into one, they mist into vapor, just another passing notion.
The first and most obvious thing to say about this CD is that one should perhaps empty one’s bladder before attempting it. Here is a magical use of water as a sound source, the Main soundsource. Layers and layers of water, dripping, running, rippling, everything that water can sound like, then done double to make it sound like something else. Sometimes it is relaxing, sometimes it is unnerving. Sometimes, when it does really sound like water, it makes you have to “go”.
Aube is Akifume Nakajima, a noted Japanese noise artist, who has crossed a border with Ricochetentrance. For years and years we’ve been hearing people make music out of anything they could force to produce sound. It has been said that the need to have music in life is so strong as to drive people to create noise by whatever means they have available. Instruments have been optional forever. Think of primitive early American mountain dwellers, strumming out melodies from their corrugated washboards, cavemen beating on bones, Platform 5 weilding spanners on their radiators. This is how instruments were ever even invented, right? But here we have a man who has taken one essence of life, and used it to produce another..
Water to music. Blatantly obvious idea. And, he’s done it well. I think Aube may go on to continue discovering soundsources, new ways to re-do what’s been done in patterns too long. Hopefully, Mr. Nakajima will also continue to develop these water sounds. Water is life, and life needs music. What genius to use one to make the other. It should be noted that this CD has been done in limited edition, with beautiful packaging, simply reflecting the source within, designed by Aube as well as its contents. Do collect and reflect: Aube has reminded us that while nothing is original, our worlds can pool with creation, as close as the kitchen sink.
Aube – Seton
Label: Manifold Format: CD
The tentative roughing of the recording – this time out, the sound source is stone. It’s packaged between two sheets of stone. Fucking-a right! Scraping repeats repeats and so forth as other pieces of stone make occasional and spectral appearances. The wow of the feedback moves alongside the scraping repetition spinning in slo-mo dervish joy. These tones fade out and other, subtler tones take their place. It’s as if stones have been thrown into the pond and these tracks are ripples colliding with one another.
It’s fascinating, the amount of varied sounds Nakajima-san obtains from one sound source. But is it the sound sources themselves that inform the recordings, or the techniques and machines with which he extracts the sounds? Pursuing his quarry? And now the return to the workplace of the “rhythm”. Might he have an innate sense of timing? Or are all the machines helping him? Not to cast aspersion, of course – we all need our machines. Yet, as repetitive as the beat is, it does change from time to time, almost imperceptibly. Now comes a scratchy kind of scrambling, running across the wavecrests of a low rumble. Then a different beat, dancelike in its orientation. It moves into another age, implying eternity…
Auch – Remix Tomorrow Goodbye
Label: Force-Inc. Format: CD,3LP
Auch‘s Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye was by all accounts one of the albums which brought the glitch to the wider dancefloors filled with the minimal Techno put out by Force-Inc and similarly-inclined labels. Here it gets demixed further into the realms of attenuated, deracinated clickety-snips and thumping grooves alike by eleven co-creators (plus one crackling self-mix) of electronic bleeps, belches and occasional blasts.
No-one gets a track title, just an artist tag to hang the piece on; not being familiar with the source material it’s a little difficult to say how radical the remixes might or might not be, but they flow together nicely, warbling, washing and extruding to the slow beat of the evolving laptop sound set up for the century ahead. Danceable and loungable by turns, it doesn’t feel particvularly groundbreaking, but it’s entirely agreeable in setting up then knocking down and playing around with the accepted notions of what seems increasingly vague to call Techno, frequently done with a healthy disrespect for the form too.
So events wander from the single-minded cycling whirrs of technicians Gez Varley and Sutekh to the equally driven stepping chirrups of Goem‘s mix, throught loopily-layered dentist-drill’n’house mania courtesy of DAT Politics and the surprising interjection of cheery melody combined with environmental chaostrophe from Ricardo Villalobos to Full Swing‘s slow motion rubberbanded gloom. There’s plenty of variety and hynotic grooves of not too disparate kinds to be found on Remix Tomorrow Goodbye. Want to lean back, relax with furrowed brow, then jump up and down in a grinning tranced-out way for a while? This’ll do the trick.
Audio Active – Apollo Choco Remixed
Label: On-U Sound Format: CD,LP
Apollo Choco was Audio Active‘s very own Space Opera concept album, and while it had its moments, there was never really much lasting satisfaction to be gained from the (as is only to be expected) rambling story of the adventures of the crew of a spaceship made of fine black hashish. The remixes here have allowed the various hands of editorial control to work some changes on the less coherent edges, and generally for the better. Patron saint of dub mixers Adrian Sherwood takes the already pretty languid “Coolness In My Foolishness” into even more relaxed instrumental territories, while his take on “Robot War” edges out some of the original’s more comic book vocal moments in favour of some highly energetic mixing desk manoevres. That other omnipresent slider-man, Alec Empire, reconfigures “My Way” into a characteristically noisy extended Dub fest. There must be some kind of contractual obligation for this man to be involved in remix albums.
The “Cattle Mutilation” mix of “Penalty Taker” already appeared on the Start Rec EP a couple of years back, but is still a damn good slice of Audio Active’s Drum & Bass activities, though it’s a pity they haven’t taken the opportunity to extend them further, and Sherwood’s (still excellent) take on “Open The Gate” originates from the same EP too. “Weed Specialist” was already a cover of 2Badcard‘s digital Roots classic, but here the gang themselves show that a little hectic breakbeat manipulation and the application of the Bass controls go a long way to making a good song even better. Kuranaka are presumably a fellow Japanese band, and they tackle “Citizen Zombie” in impressively clattery style – even getting some Metal riffs in there for a headbanging Laibach in Dub experience. For once there’s a remix album which is as good (or in this case, even better) as the original.
Audio Active – Return Of The Red-I
Label: Dream Machine/Warner Music Japan Format: CD
Managing to combine Star Wars iconography with adoration of the sacred herb (the album opens with a sharp intake of smoke), Audio Active slip further away from their dub reggae core, radiating off into directions equally bass-laden. Somewhere in the realms of downtempo HipHop, breakbeat fusion and Funktional psychedelic Space Rock madness, whatever music they’re creating might be termed, it’s certainly wigged out more than most. The sleeve is a mash-up of cartoon city-scapes, Samurai-Vaders, dope-smoking virtual robots and images of the band as curious observers in some kind of genetically-modified laboratory – and what weeds might be being made super-strong can only be imagined.
The continuing links with the On-U Sound crew remains strong, with production spots by Adrian Sherwood, Skip MacDOnald and Mark Stewart‘s musical collaborator Simon Mundey, and musical guests I-ROy and Carlton “Bubblers” Ogilvie of 2BadCard too. All this and violins from Sovra and guest raps from Deedar of Asian Dub Foundation, and it’s a packed jamboree of the well-baked on board the starship Audio Active… who now also have their own Health Service too it seems.
They’re still on a heavy bass marijuana trip, with every boom echoed, every guitar soaring off in mind-melting directions, though the rhythms are generally quite upbeat and, well, active – so this is more a skunk than hash album, wired over tired, and quite likely designed to suck the head off with ominous vocalisations, spot sound effects and long, winding trails of planet-sized echo. The theme still follows on from the Spaced Opera developed in Apollo Choco (which featured a spaceship made of black hash), as the crew (or “Stoned Troopers” as one track puts it) battle the Evil (H)Empire with their own psycho bud proselytising and driving rhythms. Quite loopy, and obviously completely off their heads most of the time, Audio Active have produced quite the most bizarre smoking album of the year.
Audio Active/Universe Crew– What’s Inside Your Afro?/Citizen Zombie Remixes
Label: Green Tea Format: 12″
A pairing of two idiosyncratic groups in remix split single mode. First up are Tokyo’s Audio Active, with their remix of Universe Crew’s “What’s Inside Your Afro?” Tackled in relaxed dub style, this is a good reworking of a strange single, while the accompanying head-nodder “Coolness In My Foolishness” seems identical to the original from the Apollo Choco album.
Returning the favour, Ohio’s exponents of the warped groove smooth the same album’s “Citizen Zombie” into a cool slo-mo mix of typewriter beats and TripHop squiggles, retaining the echo chamber excursions of the source material among their own peculiar brand of lounge Jazz stylings. It’s their own all-new track, “Turn Of The Century (World War III Mix)” which really allows them freedom to funk, turning in a typically lugubrious track where the Hop to the Hip is definitely chunky, the guitar wahs as it should, and a popping melody with semi-anthemic chorus keep the whole thing together.
Audiobot vs The Galloping Oscillator – Audiobot vs The Galloping Oscillator
Label: Z Media Format: CD
Ian Price and Ryan Horlacher, or perhaps Audiobot vs the Galloping Oscillator, are engaged cheerfully in a fateful battle of wills. The equipment has become so integral to the performer’s method that questions of distinctions between human performers and sound producing machineries have become somewhat obscure and pedantic. But all this is a flurry of overcooked horsechestnuts: What distinguishes these performers and their prosthetic crutches from a hundred others engaged in similar power struggles is the sheer joy with which the whole endeavour has been embued. Genre is more often completely ignored rather than subverted or perverted. The careful listener may hear fragments of Electro, Drum’n’Bass, Krautrock, Jazz, Lounge and a number of other well worn pigeonholes but that same over-intellectualized ear will perhaps learn if it listens properly that these apparent stylings are merely part of the warp and weft of Price and Horlacher’s fabric, or should I say texture?
The eclectic jam aesthetic of Price’s previous band, the protean Zeb (Zebulldada), has been magnified and supercharged. In Ryan Horlacher he has found a suitable opponent and partner in crime. Perhaps the stand out moment of Audiobot vs the Galloping Oscillator proper (the CD also includes the Texturiles EP as a bonus) is the track “Lovey” with lyrics “ghost written” by Zeb co-founder Joe Baker. The rhythm and static fuzzbass of this track carry an awesome nonsense chorus from the highest moments of helium abuse in a demented dying insect dance drama… and then it is gone. But there are too many other apexes and epiphanies, as if the duo were following Stockhausen‘s blueprint for the Moment form, and it can probably be best described in voltage diagrams or roadmaps or Dewey numbers or something.
Perhaps this is the trajectory electronic music will have to assume to escape the twin demons of beard stroking post-Rock and anorak-clad Dance culture. It is difficult to predict where these two artists, either individually or together, will take this Baroque kaleidoscope but for the time being: They’re having a laugh!
Autechre – Confield
Label: Warp Format: CD,2LP
Dammit, Autechre can still confound and confuse as much as they’ve ever done. Skims of the sound of the natural world meeting the digital and electronic mesh like no-one else has quite managed to acheive, despite the legions of followers who somehow get the sound but never quite the feel just right. Perhaps it’s not just the selection of what could be a ball-bearing revolving endlessly, stochastically around the inside of a virtul metal bowl which opens the album on “VI Scose Poise”; maybe there’s more than just the way the rhythms seem to fragment, then reveal that they were just taking a different turn than might be expected. Could there be something to the notion that the machines are making the sounds by themselves, and Messers Booth and Brown are lifting them out as collectors, rather than composers?
Fanciful and wildly inaccurate as that idea is, it’s a notion which never quite escapes credulity when listening to Confield. What might start out as a fairly linear rhythm will go astray, seemingly of its own volition. The insertion of a liquid blip here and there soon becomes wilfully lateral, as do the tumbling beats made from sucked-up detritus, fast-chiming metal or deracinated melodies. Recursive carhorn trickles like “Eidetic Casein” command queasy directions to a lapsed beat; dissolution is promised and delivered in the entropic lacerations and tachycardiac stumbling bass and trills of “Uviol”. Jazz could be an obvious invocation, but (real) Jazz doesn’t sound this cybernetic. Chaos expanded inside the sequencer? Improvisation mmashing up composition and happenstance through a selection of filters, black-boxed or software as seems appropriate? When the percussive entanglements of “Pen Expers” flood out spreading sonic confusion, it really does sound like the apocalypse is being staged for rhythm amid the trangression of breakbeat culture. A demonic posession by machine elves? Even the wheezing chords of something which may be keyboard or could be a tattered pipe organ can’t hold the line down too long; as the furious whorls of scattershot beats make the walls reel, the struggle to retain listening balance becomes decidedly precarious. The re-assertion of gunshot richochet signifies some kind of titanic audio struggle; it’s like being hailed with tingly sonic bullets.
Despite all this hungry activity, Confield rarely sounds confused, though it’s often confounding. Labels as diverse as Experimental Techno, deranged HipHop, Psychedelic Avant-Gardism, Drum & Bass, Electronica and whatever it is that the arrangements of glitches upon crackles can usefully be called flicker and fade into something more weird, more dissonant. Understanding this album ultimately requires immersion, the willing suspension of disbelief that anyone would want to make these sounds public. Confield soon becomes its own reality, a microcsomic sonic architecture that leaks into the known universe. Infectious, like worms, electronic or otherwise – released into the wild, Confield could quite probably mutate and evolve, all by itself.
Autechre – EP7
Label: Warp Format: 2×12″,CD
The first challenge to Autechre`s latest release is which side to play. I received a blank CD, no markings, nothing to even hint that it had passed through the hands of Messers. Booth & Brown. I’ve not seen the version thats going out for release, but I hold out the hope that it too will be just as uninformative. (It’s black – Ed.). EP7 isn’t really an EP, as it lasts for 70 minutes which is somewhat longer that an EP in my book, but this is definitely Autechre. Once again, some really rather nice ambient tracks get the Ae corruption treatment. I can’t quite pin down what it is that they do to music, but there’s something subtly not quite right about it. It’s warped, as if the music and not the record was left too close to a radiator.
The track titles are just as mangled. What about RPEG Is it a tune or a new multimedia format? At a guess I’d say both. Then theres “Ccec,” “Liccflii,” and Netlon Sentinel. What do any of these mean? I don`t know, but the latter should be given the best title of the year award.
Consider “Dropp”; this became an instant favourite of mine. It starts of with a piano like sounds that rambles around as aimlessly as a John Cage piece. All very nice in a meaningless way, then deformed HipHop/white noise/bag of rusty bolts rhythm drops out of nowhere and starts churning around. After heading nowhere for an unspecified time, the whole piece falls apart when it can no longer sustain itself. So, having got this far it looks like Autechre haven’t embarked out into new dimensions. That’s true enough, they are refining and working with what they already have – and that’s something pretty unique. No other group manage to sound so thrown together at the last minute. Only they manage to get the perfect MIDI to sound like it can’t keep up a straight rhythm – quite an achievement. This is one of the deceptive things about Autechre, the arbitrariness of their music hides their inventiveness and technical skill. After all, purely arbitrary throw it all together music inevitably winds up sounding like a pile of unlistenable shit.
EP7 is eleven highly crafted arbitrary and meandering tracks, very Autechreish, very good – make mine a pint of Schoenberg.
Having met down their local boxing club in Vienna, old-school crooner Louie Austen teamed up with Cheap‘s Patrick Pulsinger and Mario Neugebaur to produce the “Consequences” and “Hoping” single releases. With subsequent club and critical success, the follow-up album Only Tonight refines, reworks and expands on the crossover of crinkly-eyed Las Vegas suave with House, Vienna style.
There’s guest production from Ken Cesar on opener “Music”, which out-funks the Madonna track of the same name by several degrees of tuxedoo’d schmooze, while the Disco pianos of “Hoping” work overtime with the handclap as Louie raises his eyebrows in contemplation of his latest act of dancefloor prodigousness. Naughty friend Peaches pops in for a quick raunch and an early morning wake-up surprise on “Grab My Shaft!”, with no innuendo needed or implied – it’s all there in (possibly too much) dirty Electro detail. With singalong stompers like “Hear My Song!” and “Amore (I Love You)” to get the handbags swinging and wavering to the low end along as their owners dance around them on the floor.
Infected with shivery rewound and rinsed-up trills and even wayward freeform trumpet solos, there’s a sufficiently off-beat feel to the production values on Only Tonight to save it from the wavery realms of cheesy danceable schmaltz it frequently threatens to dive right into, and the finale “One Night In Rio” really goes to several towns in this respect. As Mr. Austen chats about his jet-set lifestyle, and a cocktails and lost luggage hijacking adventure in Rio, LA and Berlin with a resulting rescue from the Brazilian anti-terrorist Police, a suitably tropical backing swings and trickles gently in the background. This is definitely the best track on the album, thanks partly to its old-fashioned comedy shaggy dog story delivery and also to the way the music wavers off into the realms of delerium as the tale concludes.
John Avery – Once I Had It All, Now I Just Have Everything
Label: Liquid Format: CD
A shimmering melange of Electronica, much of it produced for dance pieces, Once I Had It All… opens with the edgy virtual fanfare of the tone-setting “In Optimo City” – from here on in it’s a half-enamoured whirl of cityscape sounds – the pulsing rush of “Blipvert”, not quite hands in the air – the undercurrents of menace see to that – but peering askance with one eye raised at those who might find themselves in that position. Breakbeats break – beats drop out, and basslines curl around for the rewind rush; so far so danceable.
All of which doesn’t quite square with the schematics of a piece like “(Title Track),” which grooves along to itself, TripHop style, sidling in a darkside manner up close to whisper the album name and theme out of a fog of bass and hiss. However, the digital wind instruments of “The Night The Rain Stopped” and “Senseless” provide calming interludes of rainforest samples and echoed pianos or synths sonrities – obvious, perhaps, but effective enough for all that. All this is a lead up to the centrepiece of “Wherefore is this night distinguished from all other nights”, a message from Terry O’Connor to Avery reflecting on existence through a series of questions (handily printed on the sleeve) which resembles some of Laurie Anderson’s spoken word pieces quite strongly – which is no bad thing.
Other tracks like “The Gun Dance” continue the pahsed-out beats and ambience generation, all in all making for a farily defocussed album; it’s curiously affectless, detatched even, and sometimes slips into longeurs which suffer from the lack of human accompaniment dancers would provide. With the drama absent from the music, the second half drifts along without much emphasis, though the reverberating arpeggiations of “Recent Ghosts” are nice enough, and the fade to grey of “Club Of No Regrets” closes the show with a minor-key finale of melancholic piano, making the whole album one for dreary days or unsettled nights.